2014 Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Over 20,000 cats or 45% of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2014 were killed, died, went missing or were unaccounted for. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters and euthanize to achieve no kill level save rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, these kittens should not be held in a traditional shelter setting and instead need to go to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the shelter. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November – March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

I modified the methodology for space-constrained shelters for this year’s analysis. Space constrained shelters do not have enough room to adopt out all of the animals they need to. Therefore, these shelters require rescue help. In the past, I assumed these shelters adopted out each cat based on the average time it takes to adopt out all cats. However, many cats require much less time to get adopted. Therefore, I assumed space-constrained shelters adopted out these animals first and then sent the cats taking longer to adopt out to rescues. While this significantly changed the results for space-constrained shelters, this assumption only had a minor impact on the overall results for all New Jersey animal shelters.

I also revised my analysis this year to put a cap on the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and cat adoptions. While my unmodified targeted numbers of rescued and adopted animals are quite achievable, I wanted to provide very conservative goals for New Jersey animals shelters. For example, the unmodified model resulted in a statewide per capita cat adoption rate less than half the level found at some of the best animal control shelters.

My modified analysis capped cat adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people within each New Jersey county. In other words, the targeted numbers of cats rescued from other shelters and adopted below are the lesser of

  1. Number predicted by model
  2. Number determined by capping adoptions at 8 cats per 1,000 people in the county

In simple terms, a shelter is expected to achieve this per capita adoption rate unless the facility lacks enough space. If a shelter does not have sufficient room, it won’t have the time to reach all the potential adopters and requires assistance from rescues and/or other facilities.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In a blog I wrote last year, I estimated the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis required many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out. In fact, a recent study documented 18% of impounded cats were feral/aggressive, but all these cats became safe enough to adopt out after people gently touched the cats and spoke to them softly for 6 days. Thus, the number of truly feral cats may be much lower than amount of cats most shelters label as aggressive.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters. However, my model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics as explained in last year’s blog.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 45,162 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2014, 32,501 and 7,583 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 24,931 cats or more than three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either kitten nurseries or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 17,348 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 17,348 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 3,127 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 3,786 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 6% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 6.4 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.6 cats per 1,000 people if no cats were rescued from out of state and all cats sent to rescue were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Tompkins County SPCA (Ithaca, New York area) – 16.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Lynchburg Humane Society (Lynchburg, Virginia) – 11.1 cats per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 10.8 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 10.0 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.3 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

Additionally, the adoption target, 6.4 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is lower than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 7.3 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only an 82% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

2014 Cats Targets

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The tables below detail the death rates for cats at each New Jersey animal shelter. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having cat death rates equal to or less than 8% and greater than 8% are highlighted in green and red in the tables below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 15,791 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2014. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral and require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 7,441 of the or 47% of the 15,791 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 1,818 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,344 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2014. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 805 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2014. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 11,408 or 72% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2014. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized the targeted number of cats or fewer. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter, Humane Society of Ocean County, Secaucus Animal Shelter, Trenton Animal Shelter and West Milford Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. While Bergen Protect and Rescue Foundation, North Jersey Humane Rescue Center and Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter reported low euthanasia rates and have animal control contracts, I cannot rely on their numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

2014 Cat Death Rate

2014 Cat Death Rate (2)

2014 Cat Death Rate (3)

Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The tables below compare the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was about 82% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 41% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 23 out of the 76 facilities needing rescue assistance received the required support. In other words, only 30% of the animal shelters needing rescue help received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters significantly exceeded their dog rescue needs, but only received 82% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue support were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies-Newark – 714 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 224 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 221 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 195 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Toms River Animal Facility – 181 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 140 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter 124 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter – 78 more cats transferred than necessary
  • East Orange Animal Shelter – 71 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Linden Animal Control – 65 more cats transferred than necessary

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, most of the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Associated Humane Societies-Newark has a history of problems and kills animals for ridiculous reasons. Paterson Animal Control has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed two dogs last year on the day the animals arrived at the facility. Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, East Orange Animal Shelter and Linden Animal Control were all investigated in the last year or two due to serious state shelter law violations. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Cumberland County SPCA – 865 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 306 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Hamilton Township Animal Shelter – 293 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 292 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 219 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 177 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats, routinely illegally kills animals during the 7 day hold period, does not adopt out animals at the shelter on weekends, allows disease to spread like wildfire and violates New Jersey shelter laws to an outrageous degree. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the tables below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of cats they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

2014 Cats Rescued

2014 Cats Rescued (2)

cr (3)

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The tables below compare the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of cats actually adopted out.

Rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. Many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 8 out of 97 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association exceeded its cat adoption target by the most of any shelter in terms of total adoptions. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 7%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target and charges a reasonable $75 fee for all cats. Other rescue oriented shelters exceeding their adoption targets were Animal Adoption Center, Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge. Thus, several rescue oriented shelters exceeded their cat adoption targets and Animal Welfare Associated used a variety of innovative strategies to adopt out many cats.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Despite not being open many hours, West Milford Animal Shelter exceeded its adoption goal by the most of any animal control shelter in terms of total cat adoptions. This shelter charges a very reasonable $35 fee for all cats and runs a creative Facebook page called “The Real Cats at West Milford Animal Shelter.” Byram Township Animal Shelter also exceeded its adoption goal. While the shelter has very limited adoption hours, the shelter’s volunteer organization partner also holds frequent adoption days at high traffic retail stores. The shelter’s volunteer organization charges reasonable adoption fees of $75 and $85 for cats and kittens, but also offers discounts when two or more cats are adopted together. Also, adoption fees for senior and special needs cats are only $35, but those fees are currently reduced to $25 for the holiday season. The Humane Society of Ocean County also exceeded its cat adoption target. While the shelter’s hours are fairly limited, the regular adoption fees for cats and kittens are only $50. In addition, the shelter adopts out barn cats who otherwise could not go to most homes. Additionally, the shelter proudly markets itself as a no kill animal control shelter and has a modern in-house veterinary facility that helps keep cats healthy and adoptable. Vorhees Animal Orphanage came close to meeting its adoption goal. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, and kittens are $100. The shelter also is open 7 days a week, including weekday evenings and weekends (except one Wednesday a month and certain holidays), which makes it convenient for working people to adopt animals. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one PetSmart store and three PetValu locations. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded or came close to achieving their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Vorhees Animal Orphanage. This shelter has a high cat death rate and its need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from this organization. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from this shelter. Given this shelter is adopting cats out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help this facility out by pulling more cats from Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. My suggestion to these shelters is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,542 cats is 35% of the 15,791 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $600 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $219-$505 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,913 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and the shelter received nearly $500 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County and the revenue from the local charity that helps support the shelter. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s, Gloucester County Animal Shelter’s, Montclair Animal Shelter’s and East Orange Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,361 cats, 1,454 cats, 712 cats, and 253 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

2014 Cat adopt

2014 Cat adopt (2)

2014 Cat adopt (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 91 of the 97 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 50 of the 91 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Only 3 shelters with significant amounts of space to rescue cats from nearby shelters met or exceeded their cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

2014 rescued cats

2014 rescued cats (2)

2014 rescued cats (3)

TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelter cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming into the state’s shelter system. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions, and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Furthermore, implementing a program where fearful and aggressive cats are touched gently and spoken to softly likely will significantly reduce the number of cats labeled as “feral” and increase adoptions. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter systems has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies-Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Hubert’s-Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, not trying to rehabilitate fearful and aggressive cats and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With nearly half of all cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying, going missing or being unaccounted for, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses ended and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2014 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health.” Unfortunately, 2015 data will not be available until August 2016.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2014 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.2 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 32 days at Lynchburg Humane Society,  33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2014. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • Space constrained shelters were assumed to adopt out their easiest to adopt animals first until they ran out of space. To estimate the average adoption length of stay, I used cat adoption length of stay data from Perth Amboy Animal Shelter from 2014 and the first half of 2015. I broke the adoption length of stay data into 5 groups that each made up 20% of the data. The average adoption length of stay for each of these 5 groups was calculated. The average adoption length of stay of each group was divided by the average length of stay for all of the adopted cats in the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter data set. Those percentages were then multiplied by the average cat adoption length of stay determined in the model above and used to determine the adoption lengths of stay used for space-constrained shelters.
  • The targeted number of cats adopted were capped at 8 cats per 1,000 people in each county. If the model yielded a higher result than this cap, the targeted numbers of cats adopted were equal to this cap. For shelters in these counties (except Passaic County), I calculated the cap at the county level and then reduced the number of cats adopted for the county to equal the cap. I excluded West Milford from Passaic County due the town’s large distance from the population centers in the rest of the county. Each shelter’s percentage of total targeted rescues in the county from the unmodified model were applied to the the total reduction in the number of cats adopted in the county to yield the targeted numbers of cats adopted in the modified model. Rescued and euthanized cats for these shelters were reduced based on the modified model’s assumption that shelters adopted out and euthanized 95% and 5% of rescued cats.

2014 New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Show Little Improvement

East Orange Animal Shelter Dog

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last September, I shared the 2014 summary statistics for New Jersey animal shelters on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The New Jersey Department of Health takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2014 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Several animal shelters, which reported statistics in prior years, failed to submit data in 2014. Specifically, Livingston Animal Shelter, Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital, All Pets Veterinary Hospital and Warren Animal Hospital disclosed this data in 2013, but did not do so in 2014. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public?

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 67 out of 96 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 68 out of 95 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 42 of the 67 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 43 of the 68 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, the more likely answer is many outcomes, such as animals killed, dying, or gone missing, were not recorded. Given 63% of the errors were due to shelters having less rather than more animals on hand at the end of the year than they should have had lends credence to the theory that errors were mostly due to shelters failing to account for various outcomes. To put it another way, 2,699 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 2,699 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in the last year.

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, rescues I know who work closely with these two facilities told me both shelters rarely adopt animals directly to the public. This makes sense as neither shelter advertized animals for adoption (i.e. no adoption web site or social medial pages run by the two shelters) in 2014. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, New Jersey Department of Health inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the New Jersey Department of Health to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Disclosed in Summary Report

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the New Jersey Department of Health’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

2014 Summary Stats (1) (1) (2)The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the New Jersey Department of Health only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake depresses the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the cat kill rate from 34.6% to 35.2% and the dog kill rate remains the same.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 13.5% to 14.2% and the cat kill rate from 35.2% to 37.4%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals who died or went missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 14.2% to 14.8% and the cat death rate rises from 37.4% to 43.4%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases live release rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate except for St. Hubert’s. Since St. Hubert’s subsequently transfers many of these animals to other shelters, I only subtract out the number of dogs St. Hubert’s rescues from out of state less the dogs it transfers to other shelters. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 14.8% to 17.7% and the state cat death rate from 43.4% to 43.8%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 17.7% to 20.6% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 43.8% to 47.3%.

Some animal shelters quickly return large percentages of their animals to owners. At these shelters, the populations served are typically well-off and animals are licensed and have microchips. To account for the animals facilities actually have to shelter, I calculated a death rate for non-reclaimed animals and a maximum potential death rate for non-reclaimed local animals. The non-reclaimed death rate and maximum potential death rate for dogs is 20.9% and 31.7%. Non-reclaimed cats had a 44.8% death rate and a 48.9% maximum potential death rate. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

Overall, the statewide statistics showed little improvement from 2013. The dog death rate in 2014 only was three tenths of one percent lower than 2013. While the maximum potential dog death rate was 3.4 percentage points lower in 2014, we don’t know whether that is due to better record keeping or actually improved life saving. The cat death rate and maximum potential death rate decreased by 3.4% and 4.2%. The growing acceptance of TNR likely slightly decreased the percentage of cats losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters this year. That being said, the improvements were very small and the percentage of dogs and cats losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters is still way too high.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats (excluding very low intake facilities) are listed in the following tables:

Dog Death rate 2014

Cat Death Rate 2014

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

In terms of raw numbers, the following shelters had the most animals lose their lives or go missing:

Total Killed Died 2014 Dogs

Total Killed Died 2014 Cats

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

Unacct dogs

Unacct cats 2014

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which reported transporting few or no animals in 2014, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

Max Pot Dr 2014 Dogs

Max Pot cats 2014

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more animals from out of state than other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, 5,090 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,692 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. The number of out of state dogs transported into New Jersey decreased in 2014, but that is due to problems at Jersey Animal Coalition and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter during the year. These problems likely resulted in fewer transported dogs. However, Jersey Animal Coalition, which is now closed, did not report any statistics for 2014. Furthermore, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter erroneously reported it transported no dogs during 2014 as the facility imported many dogs from the south before the shelter’s problems received media attention in the summer of 2014. Thus, the decrease in transports is likely due to a combination of  incorrect reporting and increased regulatory pressure on these two shelters that transported many dogs into New Jersey.

While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in and went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional dogs transported in from out of state by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

Dogs Transported 2014

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 55% and 5% are approximately twice the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while many urban shelters are only returning about around a quarter of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

To get a better idea how organizations are doing with animals they actually have to shelter, I also examined what percentage of non-reclaimed dogs lose their lives at each facility. Shelters with the highest non-reclaimed dogs death rates are as follows:

non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters with the highest maximum non-reclaimed local dogs death rates are as follows (excluding facilities that reported transporting many dogs and taking very few animals in):

Max non-reclaimed dog death rate

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2014, only 53% of dog and 65% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 62% and 85%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

Space usage dogs 2014

Space usage Cats 2014

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal shelters only impound 9.0 dogs and cats per 1,000 New Jersey residents. If we just count animals originating from New Jersey, the state’s animal shelters only impound 7.9 dogs and cats per 1,000 people. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do so much better and it is time our shelters operate this way.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s Amazing Turnaround Story

Several years ago the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was in a crisis. Under the control of future Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Director and Assistant Director, Michal Cielesz and Richard Cielesz, the shelter lacked community support. In 2010, which was the Cieselzs’ last full year at the shelter, the facility killed 25% of its dogs and 58% of its cats. Furthermore, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only adopted out 2 dogs and 10 cats for the entire year in 2010. During 2011, the Cieselzs’ left Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, but the facility still killed 14% of its dogs, 42% of its cats and 49% of its other animals. (i.e. rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, etc). As a result, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was a high kill shelter with a poor reputation.

City Hires New Animal Control Officers To Transform the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter

The city government oversees and has ultimate authority over the animal shelter. As is typical with municipal animal shelters, a department of city government, the Police Department in the case of Perth Amboy, controls the animal shelter. The city hires animal control officers to run the animal shelter and make day to day decisions. However, the Police Department has to approve new policies. Additionally, the Perth Amboy City Council may also have to approve significant new initiatives at the animal shelter. As a result, a successful animal shelter in Perth Amboy requires a supportive Police Department and City Council.

During the middle of 2012, Perth Amboy hired current Head Animal Control Officer, Christie Minigiello, to work at the animal shelter. The city hired Christie based on a recommendation from her Kean University Animal Control Officer Training program professor. Other than a very short stint at another animal control agency, Christie was new to animal sheltering. Prior to this, Christie worked in the dental field, operated a crafts business and was a passionate animal advocate. For example, several years ago Christie sent a dog, who we considered adopting before choosing another long-stay dog, to a reputable sanctuary after the shelter decided to euthanize the dog for alleged aggression. Thus, Perth Amboy decided to hire a competent person with a passion for saving animals.

Perth Amboy subsequently hired two additional compassionate animal control officers. In 2013, the city hired Joe Lipari to work at the animal shelter. Previously, Joe volunteered at the Woodbridge Animal Shelter. Joe is known as the “Pit Bull Whisperer” among Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s staff based on his ability to train and understand large dogs. Perth Amboy hired Jackie Rivera in 2014. Jackie volunteered at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter prior to becoming an ACO at the facility. Thus, the city hired compassionate ACOs to run the animal shelter.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is not an easy place to save lives. 24% of Perth Amboy’s population lives below poverty level compared to New Jersey’s average of just 10%. Perth Amboy’s poverty rate exceeds the levels found in Jersey City, Elizabeth and East Orange. In 2013, the city only spent $281 per dog and cat on animal control and sheltering compared to the high kill and dreadful East Orange Animal Shelter’s budget of $345 per dog and cat. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s budget thankfully increased in 2014 and 2015, the budgeted amount per animal is still significantly lower than the amounts of many high kill shelters. Furthermore, few dogs coming into the shelter have microchips or licenses, which is likely due to the relatively low socioeconomic status of many of the city’s residents. Based on the facility’s small capacity and the number of dogs impounded and returned to owners in 2013 and 2014, I estimate the shelter only had 24-32 days in 2013 and 35-45 days in 2014 to get dogs out of the facility before no room was left to house these animals. Thus, Perth Amboy is not an easy city to achieve no kill.

Christie, Joe and Jackie dramatically improved the shelter. In 2012, when Christie was only at the shelter for half the year, the euthanasia rate decreased from 14% to 7% for dogs and from 42% to 25% for cats. Undoubtedly, the euthanasia rate was much lower in the latter half of the year after Christie started working at the shelter. In 2013, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 97% of its dogs and 93% of its cats. In other words, only 3% of dogs and 7% of cats were euthanized or died at the shelter. Based on the facility exceeding a 90% live release rate, the shelter achieved no kill status in 2013 and was recognized by Saving90.org as being a role model shelter.

Detailed Data Shows Perth Amboy Runs a Highly Successful Shelter

In order to better analyze the shelter, I obtained detailed animal intake and disposition records for 2014 (except for one month for dogs and two months for cats) and the first six months of 2015. These records included the date the animal arrived at the shelter, species, breed, outcome (i.e. adoption, returned to owner, rescued, euthanasia, etc.) and outcome date. I tabulated this data to calculate the live release rate, average length of stay and other metrics to analyze the shelter’s performance. One slight methodological difference in my calculations verses the figures above is I counted outcomes occurring in a subsequent year as happening in the year the animal came to the shelter. For example, an animal arriving at the shelter in December 2014 and adopted out or euthanized in January 2015 will count towards the 2014 live release rate and average length of stay figures.

In 2014, the shelter continued to do an incredible job saving its dogs. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. 95% of the 135 dogs coming into the shelter were saved. In addition, rescues only pulled 4% of the dogs indicating Perth Amboy Animal Shelter was able to save almost all of these dogs on their own. Furthermore, dogs only stayed 26 days on average at the shelter and only took 31 days to get adopted. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved almost all of its dogs on its own and those dogs did not spend a long time at the shelter.

All Dogs Perth Amboy 2014

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did an excellent job with its pit bull like dogs. While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter does take in a large number of small dogs, which are easier to adopt out, 27% of the shelter’s dog intake were pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The outcome statistics and average length of stay figures for pit bull like dogs arriving at the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter in 2014 are detailed in the table below. The shelter saved 86% of pit bulls in 2014. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s 2014 pit bull live release rate was the same as two of the nation’s best no kill animal control shelters, Kansas City’s KC Pet Project (2013) and Austin Animal Center (2014). Additionally, the shelter’s pit bull like dogs only stayed at the facility for 66 days and were adopted out on average in 82 days. Furthermore, rescues only pulled a small percentage of these dogs. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved a very high percentage of its pit bulls in 2014 and got these dogs out of the shelter in a reasonably short time period.

Perth Amboy 2014 Pit Bull Data

The shelter performed even better with dogs in 2015. Through the first 6 months of 2015, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 98% of dogs who had outcomes. In fact, the shelter only euthanized one dog who had a broken back and leg and was hopelessly suffering. Additionally, dogs stayed at the facility one day less in 2015 verses 2014 despite the uptick in the live release rate. Even more impressive, the shelter saved 100% of its pit bulls through the first half of 2015. Additionally, pit bulls stayed at the facility on average 18 days less in 2015 verses 2014 and adopted pit bulls’ average length of stay decreased by 30 days in 2015. In fact, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter adopted out its pit bulls in roughly the same amount of time as the benchmark animal shelter, Tompkins County SPCA, I use to grade New Jersey animal shelters. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter has done a fantastic job with all of its dogs.

Perth Amboy 2015 Dogs

Pit Bulls 2015 Revised

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dog performance for the combined period (2014 and the first half of 2015) was excellent. 96% of all dogs and 90% of pit bull like dogs made it out of the shelter alive. In other words, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for all dogs, including pit bulls. Additionally, the average length of stay for all dogs was just 26 days and a respectable 60 days for pit bulls. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter achieved no kill for its dogs and was able to place those dogs relatively quickly.

All Dogs PA Revised

All Pit Bull PA Revised

While Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate slipped a little in 2014 and 2015, the shelter still does a pretty good job with cats. Based on the facility’s 2014 Shelter/Pound Annual Report submitted to the New Jersey Department of Heath, the shelter only euthanized 9% of the cats who had outcomes during the year. However, the live release rate drops to 82% if we count cats who died at the shelter during the year. Sadly, cats do die even at very good animal control shelters. For example, KC Pet Project had a cat live release rate of 83.5% in 2013. Similarly, the Lynchburg Humane Society only had cat live release rates of 74% and 83% in 2013 and 2014. Both KC Pet Project and Lynchburg Humane Society were considered among the nation’s best shelters during this time period, but these organizations’ older facilities made it more difficult to eliminate disease despite diligent cleaning. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s cat live release rate in 2014 was still pretty good taking into account these other factors.

Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also did a reasonably good job getting cats out of the shelter quickly. In order to do a proper analysis with enough data, I combined 2014 and 2015 cat intake and disposition statistics in the table below. Over this period, the shelter had an 81% cat live release rate. As with dogs, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter did much of the work based on cat adoptions exceeding the number of cats sent to rescues by an 8 to 1 margin. While I target a lower average length of stay for cats in my recent analysis of the state’s shelters, an average length of stay of 61 days for cats (75 days for cats who are adopted out) proves the shelter does not have to hoard cats to save a large percentage of them.

All Cats

Finally, the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter saved 100% of all the other animals coming into the facility during 2013, 2014 and 2015. These animals include rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, etc.

Perth Amboy Creates a Welcoming Looking Shelter

Recently, I visited the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and toured the facility. Immediately, you can see the ACOs created a very welcoming atmosphere with flowers and friendly decorations on the shelter’s front door:

IMG_456521834 Flowers

IMG_456522023

Additionally, during Easter the shelter added holiday festivities to the area near the entrance to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere:

Easter Decorations 3

Inside the shelter, the ACOs and volunteers took the depressing looking shelter and made it look happy. They repainted the dog and cat areas with inviting colors and added cute pictures of animals enjoying themselves:

Before runs

Volunteers Giving Shelter Make Over

Runs

Doggie ISOCat ISo 1

At the beginning of the kennel area, visitors are greeted by a pretty hanging basket of treats. This encourages adopters to interact with the dogs and increases the chance of dogs and adopters connecting with each other. Also, I really liked the positive vibe they created in the meet and greet room for adopters:

Meet & Greet Room

Even the bathroom, which is a very scary place in most shelters, got a complete makeover and looked beautiful:

Restroom

Thus, the ACOs created an inviting shelter where adopters can have a positive experience adding a new member to their families.

In addition, the shelter was extremely clean despite being full due to a large number of dogs coming in just before my visit. The ACOs regularly checked the shelter and cleaned up throughout the day. As a result, the shelter did not have that typical animal shelter smell which helps make it a welcoming place for adopters.

Strong Leadership Creates a Successful Animal Shelter

In order to run a highly effective shelter with a relatively small budget, the ACOs use a number of local high school students to clean the shelter and socialize animals during the week when many adult volunteers work. The students help out at the shelter as part of their required volunteer service to graduate from high school. Not only does this program help run the shelter at a lower cost, but it also helps the community connect with the shelter. For example, families of the students or friends of those families may choose to adopt animals or donate to the shelter. In fact, on the day of my visit a group of grade school students helped plant flowers outside the building:

Student FlowersStudent Flowers 2Student Flowers 3

The ACOs also implemented key programs that help dogs, particularly pit bulls, safely get out of the shelter more quickly. While the facility is small, the shelter has a fenced in yard where dogs can go out and run. Additionally, social dogs can play with other dogs. Playgroups are essential to keeping high energy dogs happy and healthy at shelters and are a common denominator among the nation’s best shelters for pit bull like dogs. Additionally, the ACOs started a foster program for all types of animals that allows animals to leave the shelter sooner. If I calculate the average length of stay based on when dogs left the shelter to go to foster homes rather than their final adoption date (i.e. after going to a foster home), the average length of stay for all dogs and pit bulls would decrease by 3 days and 7 days since the foster program began. Thus, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter created some very positive programs for pit bull like dogs.

Christie clearly demonstrated a passion for what she does and an initiative to improve. During my visit, Christie shared innovative ideas on how she could add space to a pretty small facility. In addition, she told me that the shelter wants to help neuter and release feral cats to assist local TNR advocates in the future. Finally, Christie talked to me about a planned program to allow children to read to shelter animals. Reading programs reduce stress in animals and may help kids gain confidence to speak in front of groups of people.

While I do have some different opinions on tactical strategies to saving lives, the ACOs have an unwavering passion to do the same. In addition to being the Head ACO, Christie runs the shelter’s Facebook page. On her day off recently, she helped catch a dog that was lost for 9 months. Also, Christie, Jackie and Joe often come to volunteer at the shelter on their days off. Most striking was how appalled Christie and Jackie were when I told them how other shelters used frequent killing as a method of population control. Thus, the ACOs clearly have a passion for saving animals and will do what it takes to make sure that happens.

Additionally, the City of Perth Amboy deserves a lot of credit. The Police Department, which oversees the shelter, has been very supportive of the ACOs and their efforts. Similarly, the local government also has stood behind the ACOs as well. The city keeps the facility open more hours than other similarly sized shelters, 10 am – 4 pm weekdays (shifting these hours a little later, say from 1 pm – 7 pm, would make the facility more convenient for adopters who work) and 10 am to 3 pm on weekends. Also, the location is near a commercial area with lots of foot traffic. Thus, the combination of supportive government officials, and competent and passionate ACOs helped turn the shelter around and make the city a role model for others.

Many other people noticed the positive change at the shelter as well:

Perth Amboy Turn Around 2

Perth Amboy Turn Around

Perth Amboy Turn Around 3

People Should Volunteer to Make the Shelter Even Better

While the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is doing wonderful things, more volunteers can take the shelter to the next level. For example, additional fosters can help get cats out of the shelter more quickly to reduce the number of cats dying and raise the cat live release rate back over 90%. Similarly, volunteers can create a nonprofit to help fund some higher cost care, such as expensive veterinary procedures requiring specialists or a behaviorist for certain dogs needing extensive rehabilitation. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter raise its live release rate even further.

Volunteers can also help Perth Amboy Animal Shelter save the lives of animals in other communities. To the extent Perth Amboy Animal Shelter can reduce its average length of stay, the facility can contract with additional communities currently served by high kill shelters. For example, if Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s average length of stay decreased by 50%, the shelter would have the space to handle twice as many animals. Volunteers can help get animals adopted more quickly by taking excellent photos, with a professional photographer being ideal, or creative videos. Similarly, volunteers can help with off-site adoption events or better yet, a satellite adoption center in a Petsmart, Petco or PetValu store. Additionally, volunteers can foster more animals to create more space for the shelter to take in more animals. Also, volunteers can train dogs that stay longer at the shelter to reduce their length of stay. Thus, more volunteers can help the shelter save more animals in many ways.

Volunteers should donate their valuable time to organizations where their contributions will be valued. Clearly, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is run by passionate and highly skilled animal advocates. In my opinion, this is the type of shelter where volunteers can do more good. Sadly, volunteers at other shelters often have to fight management to save lives. Luckily, central New Jersey has an excellent shelter and people should volunteer at this facility to make a real difference.

Cat Report Cards for New Jersey Animal Shelters

Cats are losing their lives at an alarming rate in New Jersey animal shelters. Approximately 23,000-24,000 cats or nearly half of the cats coming into New Jersey animal shelters in 2013 were killed, died or went missing. This blog explores the reasons why this tragedy is occurring and whether we can end the massacre. Additionally, I’ll try and answer the question whether shelters need to resort to neutering and releasing healthy friendly cats or not impounding these cats at all to avoid killing cats in shelters.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey cats.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters and euthanize to achieve no kill level save rates. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number of cats the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of cats actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community cats a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many cats must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out cats from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual results from each shelter below.

The Life Saving Model requires a more complex analysis for cats than dogs in New Jersey. Generally speaking, New Jersey animal shelters receive few litters of young puppies who are vulnerable to disease. On the other hand, local shelters receive lots of young kittens, particularly during the April to October kitten season. These young kittens are highly vulnerable to disease and those without mothers require bottle feeding every 1-2 hours. Therefore, these kittens should not be held in a traditional shelter setting and instead need to go to foster homes or a kitten nursery at or outside of the shelter. During the months outside of kitten season (i.e. November – March), my model assumes shelters with enough physical space will be able to place young kittens into their volunteers’ foster homes and/or in a kitten nursery run by the animal shelter. In kitten season with many young animals coming in, I assume a certain percentage of the cat intake will need to go to rescues or other shelters. For shelters who rescue cats, I assume a small percentage of the cats are young kittens who are hopelessly suffering and will require humane euthanasia. Thus, my Life Saving Model is a bit more complicated than the analysis I did for dogs.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

Another complexity in this analysis are feral cats. In an ideal world, shelters would practice trap-neuter-return (TNR) or shelter-neuter-return (SNR) for feral cats only. In TNR, the public or a third party typically does the work and the shelter doesn’t take in feral cats. In the variant of SNR I support, the shelter would take in feral cats, neuter them and release them back to where they were found. Unfortunately, many municipalities prohibit these programs and shelters in these places generally catch and kill feral cats.

Ideally, I would perform two analyses as follows:

  1. Modeling a large scale and targeted TNR program by reducing cat intake at shelters needing to implement TNR or improve their existing TNR programs
  2. Estimating the number of truly feral cats taken in and counting these cats as killed

The first analysis assumes TNR could be implemented and would result in fewer New Jersey cats for shelters to place. In my next blog, I will estimate the impact of a high volume targeted spay/neuter program. Generally speaking, this analysis requires many animal control shelters to adopt out more cats, send fewer cats to rescue, and rescue more cats from other shelters due to the extra shelter space resulting from lower local cat intake. In other words, this analysis would require shelters to achieve higher performance targets.

The second analysis assumes local laws cannot be changed and shelters are stuck receiving unadoptable feral cats. Unfortunately, I do not have the data to calculate the percentage of truly feral cats received at each New Jersey animal shelter. Based on an analysis of Michigan animal shelter data, Nathan Winograd estimated at least 6% of cat intake at Michigan animal shelters are truly feral cats. Similarly, Wisconsin’s Clark County Humane Society 2014 cat statistics show feral cats who were trapped, vaccinated and returned to the community made up 7% of cat outcomes. Based on these numbers and the success of barn cat programs in Pflugerville, Texas and the Maryville, Tennessee area, barn cat programs should be able to save most feral cats in similar communities. On the other hand, California’s Orange County Animal Care reported approximately 24% of the cats it took in during 2012, which was before it practiced TNR, were feral and euthanized. However, I suspect at least some of these cats were fearful rather than truly feral and could have been socialized and eventually adopted out.

My model assumes shelters are doing the proper thing and practicing TNR and placing the reasonable number of feral cats received as barn cats. Obviously, many shelters do take in a good number of feral cats due to poor laws or misguided policies. As a result, the number of New Jersey cats killed may be higher than my model predicts for some shelters.

My model’s results using total cat intake rather than assuming a larger percentage of feral cats will not be too much different for the targeted adoption and euthanasia rate metrics. The Life Saving Model assumes euthanized cats stay at shelters for 8 days (i.e. euthanized immediately after the 7 day hold period). Many shelters will have a lot of extra space free up if more cats are feral and killed since the net impact will be moving local cats from adopted (assumed length of stay of 42 days) to killed (assumed length of stay of only 8 days). This creates extra space that my model assumes shelters use to rescue and adopt out cats from other places. For example, if I assume New Jersey animal shelters have a local cat kill rate of 30% as opposed to 8% due to more feral cats, total cat adoptions (New Jersey plus other states) will only be 2% lower and the kill rate would only rise from 7% to 16% for the New Jersey shelter system. A few space constrained shelters with high feral cat intake would have a significant increase in the targeted number of cats euthanized and a decrease in cats needing rescue due to cats moving from sent to rescue (assumed length of stay of 8 days) to euthanized (assumed length of stay of 8 days). However, on a statewide basis, shelters with excess capacity would partially offset this increase in the kill rate by rescuing and adopting out cats from shelters outside of New Jersey. Thus, the difference between my model’s assumed and actual feral cat intake will not have too much of an impact on the targeted cat adoption number and kill rate.

The following analysis assumes shelters receive a reasonable number of truly feral cats. As a result, shelters can adopt out these cats through a barn cat program. While I realize some shelters do receive greater numbers of truly feral cats, the purpose of this analysis is to examine whether New Jersey animal shelters can handle the number of cats received.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save Most of New Jersey’s Healthy and Treatable Cats and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animal shelter system has enough space to save most of the state’s healthy and treatable cats. The table below details the targeted numbers of cat outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 49,163 New Jersey cats coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 31,641 and 12,195 cats should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the cats in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had enough capacity to rescue 37,736 cats or three times the number of cats needing rescue from space constrained facilities. Unfortunately, some of the cats needing rescue, such as very young kittens, should not go to a shelter and still must go to either a kitten nursery or foster homes. That being said, many adult cats are in fact killed in New Jersey animal shelters and many facilities with excess space could save these cats.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many cats from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out at least 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or New Jersey’s streets after achieving a greater than 90% live release rate for cats coming into the state’s animal shelters. In reality, the New Jersey shelter system could rescue more than 25,541 cats from out of state shelters or from New Jersey’s streets given the 25,541 figure assumes all cats needing rescue from space constrained New Jersey shelters are sent to other New Jersey shelters as opposed to rescue groups. As explained above, some of the cats needing rescue from New Jersey shelters with a shortage of space are young kittens which should not go into most animal shelters. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters contain enough space to make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for cats and increase those cities’ cat live release rates to 92% as follows (per 2014 data):

  • New York City – 2,366 additional cats need saving
  • Philadelphia – 6,171 additional cats need saving

Certainly, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. Even if I assumed all of the out of state cats rescued by New Jersey animal shelters came from New York City and Philadelphia, that number is only 8% of the number that New Jersey shelters could rescue from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. While some of these cats from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters are young kittens which should not go into a normal animal shelter, many other cats could go to New Jersey animal shelters and be adopted out. As a result, the additional number of cats New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City and Philadelphia is not much lower than the figures above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for cats and help other states reach that goal as well.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 7.6 cats per 1,000 people in the state (4.9 cats per 1,000 people if no cats rescued from out of state and all rescued cats were rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters and adopted out). As a comparison, recent per capita cat adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 14.2 cats per 1,000 people
  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 9.9 cats per 1,000 people
  • Williamson County Animal Shelter (Williamson County, Texas area): 9.5 cats per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 8.2 cats per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out significantly more cats than the number I target for New Jersey animal shelters.

Additionally, the adoption target, 7.6 cats per 1,000 people, I set out for New Jersey animal shelters is only slightly higher than the state of Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate of 6.5 cats per 1,000 people. Given Colorado still has some regressive animal shelters and only a 79% live release rate for cats, Colorado’s per capita cat adoption rate can increase. Thus, the cat adoption targets I laid out for New Jersey animal shelters are quite achievable.

Summary

Cat Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The table below compares the targeted and actual number of cats euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. In order to better compare the targeted and actual numbers, I only calculated the target number (8% euthanasia/death rate) based on the number of cat outcomes at each shelter. The Life Saving Model also targets a 5% euthanasia rate for additional cats rescued, but this would overstate the total targeted number of cats euthanized in this comparison. In other words, the targeted number of euthanized cats would be higher due to more cats being rescued as opposed to having a high kill rate. All cats missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having less and more than the targeted amount of cat deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

The overall results show too many cats are unnecessarily losing their lives at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the assumptions above, 18,877 savable cats lost their lives or went missing at New Jersey animal shelters in 2013. If I only count shelters where actual deaths exceeded the targeted deaths, the number of savable cats who lost their lives rises to 19,078. Obviously, some of these cats are truly feral who require TNR or placement as barn cats, but surely many others could be adopted out. Thus, New Jersey’s shelter system is failing its cats.

Several animal shelters in South Jersey and elsewhere account for a large percentage of the savable cats unnecessarily losing their lives. Specifically, Atlantic County Animal Shelter, Burlington County Animal Shelter, Camden County Animal Shelter, Cumberland County Animal Shelter and Gloucester County Animal Shelter account for 9,707 of the or 51% of the 19,078 cats needlessly losing their lives. Associated Humane Societies three shelters had 2,059 cats unnecessarily lose their lives. Northern Ocean County Animal Facility and Southern Ocean Animal Facility had 1,594 cats lose their lives needlessly in 2013. Bergen County Animal Shelter, which happens to serve many towns in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, had 649 cats unnecessarily lose their lives in 2013. Collectively, these 11 shelters are 11% of the state’s shelters and account for 14,009 or 73% of the cats needlessly losing their lives.

Rescue oriented shelters generally had fewer cats lose their lives than targeted. While saving large numbers of cats is what we all want, some of these shelters may have achieved this result by taking in easier cats. Austin Pets Alive, which is a rescue oriented shelter in Texas, has developed some of the most innovative cat programs and only had a cat live release rate of 93% in 2013. This was due to Austin Pets Alive taking in many cats requiring significant treatment, such as neonatal kittens, from the city animal control shelter. As a result, some of the rescue oriented shelters with significantly fewer cats euthanized than targeted may have avoided taking in many of the more difficult cases.

Several animal control shelters euthanized fewer cats than the number targeted. Denville Animal Shelter, Ewing Animal Shelter, Byram Township Animal Shelter and Wayne Animal Shelter prove municipal animal shelters can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Furthermore, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter shows even a poorly funded shelter serving an area with a high poverty rate can avoid killing healthy and treatable cats. Mercerville Animal Hospital, which only reported data from 2012, also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted at its shelter. This shelter had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. While St. Huberts – Madison outperformed its targeted euthanasia number, St. Huberts – North Branch underperformed by a greater amount. Humane Society of Ocean County also euthanized far fewer cats than targeted. While Jersey Animal Coalition and John Bukowski Animal Shelter (Bloomfield) reported fewer than targeted cats losing their lives, I do not trust these organizations numbers due to the turmoil at these shelters during this time.

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Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake and very limited space, it will need more help than other shelters. While sending animals to rescues is a good thing, we do want shelters most needing rescue support to receive that help given rescues have limited resources. The table below compares the number of cats a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of cats actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of cats rescued was about 37% of the amount needed for the state as a whole, the actual number was 28% since many cats were rescued from facilities which did not require so much rescue assistance. Only 18 out of the 84 facilities received the required rescue support. In other words, only 21% of the animal shelters needing rescue support received the amount these facilities require.

We truly need to understand the reasons for this rescue shortfall. While poor data collection (i.e. shelters classifying rescues as adoptions) may explain part of this rescue deficit, the large size of this number points to other causes as well. For example, New Jersey shelters received 89% of their dog rescue needs, but only 37% of their cat rescue requirements. Certainly, some of these cats are feral and not candidates for most rescues. However, many other cats surely are home-able. Many high kill facilities may not reach out to rescues for cats, such as during kitten season, as much as they do for dogs. This data supports the need for the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”), which requires shelters to contact rescues and other facilities at least two business days before killing animals. On the other hand, shelters with excess capacity may not be doing their part to save cats from space constrained facilities.

Several shelters received too much rescue help. Rescues may want to help these organizations due to rescue friendly policies. Alternatively, these shelters may be relying too heavily on rescues to save their animals. Shelters receiving the most extra rescue help were as follows:

  • Toms River Animal Facility – 327 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Cape May County Animal Shelter – 201 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Passaic Animal Shelter – 106 more cats transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 88 more cats transferred than necessary (estimated due to the shelter’s incorrect reporting of rescues as adoptions)

While Cape May County Animal Shelter is known as a progressive shelter, the other facilities are not good in my opinion. Local activists have campaigned to remove Toms River Animal Facility’s Shelter Director, Jim Bowen. Passaic Animal Shelter has no volunteer program or even a social media page. Paterson Animal Control also has no volunteer program, no social media page or even a website with animals for adoption. Thus, many shelters receiving greater than expected rescue support seem to do little more than allow rescues to save the day.

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities receiving the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 1,875 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter – 1,499 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Atlantic County Animal Shelter – 1,437 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Vorhees Animal Orphanage – 470 fewer cats transferred than necessary
  • Northern Ocean Animal Facility – 427 fewer cats transferred than necessary

The million dollar question is why do these shelters receive very little rescue help? As you will see below, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts out many cats and is doing a good job. On the other hand, Gloucester County Animal Shelter pursues an aggressive catch and kill policy for feral cats and allegedly killed kittens within 3 days of arriving at the shelter per this letter to a local newspaper. Northern Ocean Animal Facility failed to send even a single cat to a rescue which indicates either poor rescue outreach or an error in its reported numbers. As a result, shelters receiving too little rescue help may or may not be doing their part to get that assistance.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull cats from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. One exception is Associated Humane Societies – Newark given Associated Humane Societies two other facilities have more than enough room to help the Newark location. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling cats from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing cats from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective cat capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house cats on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians and local pet stores to house and adopt out some cats. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of cats cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and an appointment system for owners willing to delay surrendering their cats could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of cats they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

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Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Cat Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out cats. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable cats, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The table below compares the number of cats from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of cats actually adopted out.

High kill shelters with very limited space as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of cats facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of cats these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of cats due to limited physical capacity, the cats adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of cats these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt cats than the bulk of cats needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from shelters with very limited capacity and rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 6 out of 101 shelters met the cat adoption goals computed by the Life Saving Model. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Two rescue oriented shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Animal Welfare Association had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 3 times the number of cats targeted by the Life Saving Model. Based on the the types of cats currently available for adoption and the cat death rate of 11%, Animal Welfare Association does not seem to just take in highly sought after cats. Animal Welfare Association has reasonable normal adoption fees of $95 for kittens and $65 for adult cats, but runs reduced and no adoption fee promotions as well. Animal Welfare Association also waives fees for certain cats who may take longer to adopt out, such as cats who are older or have behavioral or health issues. Furthermore, the shelter’s “Best Friends” program allows people who adopt a cat to pay just $25 for a second cat who is 1 year or older. Additionally, Animal Welfare Association uses an open adoption process focused on properly matching animals and people rather than an overly judgmental procedure based on black and white rules. To aid its open adoptions process, Animal Welfare Association uses the ASPCA’s Feline-ality program. Animal Welfare Association’s adoption rate increased by 20% and its cat length of stay decreased by 23 days after the shelter implemented the Feline-ality program. Finally, Animal Welfare Association installed perches in their cat enclosures to provide cats more vertical space which keeps the cats happier and more adoptable. Animal Rescue Force also exceeded its adoption targets and a key part of its success is using three different adoption sites, two of which are not in a traditional setting. Thus, Animal Welfare Association and Animal Rescue Force used a variety of strategies to exceed their cat adoption targets.

Several animal control shelters also exceeded their adoption targets. Camden County Animal Shelter adopted out more animals than expected. This shelter’s normal cat adoption fees are reasonable and the organization also uses four different Petsmart locations and one Petco store to adopt out cats. However, the shelter can likely further increase its cat adoptions if it abandons its cumbersome adoption process and uses an open adoptions process like Animal Welfare Association’s Feline-ality program. Vorhees Animal Orphanage also exceeded its adoption goal. Vorhees Animal Orphanage’s operating hours include weekday evenings and weekends which allows working people to adopt. This shelter’s normal adoption fees are quite reasonable. For example, cats at the shelter for 6 months or longer are $30, senior cats are $50, adult cats are $65, kittens are $100 and both senior citizens and military personnel receive a 25% discount on adoption fees. Additionally, Vorhees Animal Orphanage adopts cats out at one Petco store and two PetValu locations. Mercerville Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target in 2012 (no statistics reported in 2013) and had an animal control contract for the first seven months of the year. A rescue group, Animals in Distress, runs the adoption program. The shelter has a reasonable $75 adoption fee, which includes testing for Feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus (“FIV”). Additionally, the shelter adopts animals out during weekday evenings which is convenient for working people and the cats are kept in an environment which provides lots of stimulation. Harmony Animal Hospital also exceeded its adoption target and charges no adoption fee. Thus, several animal control shelters exceeded their cat adoption goals and therefore prove these adoption targets are achievable.

Rescues should focus on pulling animals from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage. Both these shelters have high cat death rates and their need for rescues greatly exceeds the amount of animals actually pulled from these organizations. While some of these cats may be feral and therefore not adoptable, many other cats surely could be rescued from the two shelters. Given these shelters are adopting animals out at a good rate, rescues and other other shelters should help these facilities out by pulling more cats from Camden County Animal Shelter and Vorhees Animal Orphanage.

Some municipal animal control shelters may be doing a better job with cats than the numbers below indicate. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue cats from elsewhere. For example, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter had a significant adoption shortfall, but only used a small percentage of its cat capacity. In other words, it is quite likely this shelter adopted out its cats quite quickly, but failed to meet its adoption target due to not using enough of its space. This shelter saved 93% of its cats compared to the previous shelter management’s reported live release rate of just 42%. Similarly, this shelter adopted out more than 10 times as many cats in 2013 than the previous management did a few years before. My suggestion to shelters like Perth Amboy Animal Shelter is to find ways to use more of your facility’s capacity to expand your lifesaving work to other areas. For example, these shelters should consider taking in animals from other shelters for a fee or even contracting with other municipalities.

Many shelters with the ability to help other local shelters fail to do so. New Jersey animal shelters have the potential to rescue and adopt out more than 3.5 times as many cats as the number of cats unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 20-50% (depending on how capacity used for the year is estimated) of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own cats or rescue cats from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 50-80% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not adopting out animals as quickly as these organizations should. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters fail to even come close to their adoption potential.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to significantly reduce the killing of healthy and treatable cats. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 6,555 cats is 34% of the 19,078 cats unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in over $8 million of revenue last year. This works out to nearly $500 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $254-$415 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Several other shelters had significant adoption shortfalls. Bergen County Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfall of 1,929 cats is quite disappointing. Bergen County is among the top 1% of the nation’s wealthiest counties and received $430 of funding per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in based on direct support from Bergen County. If the revenue from the local charity that helps the shelter is counted, the funding increases to $483 per dog and cat the shelter should take in. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s and Montclair Township Animal Shelter’s adoption shortfalls of 2,084 and 1,323 cats are not surprising given the widely documented problems at these facilities during this time. Cumberland County SPCA’s adoption shortfall of 2,045 cats is consistent with its overly restrictive adoption process. Thus, many shelters with the ability to adopt out many cats are failing to do so.

cat adoption

cat adoption (2)

cata adoption 3 (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Cats

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving homeless cats, I compared the targeted number of cats each shelter should pull from nearby shelters to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all cats rescued from out of state came from nearby areas, such as Philadelphia and New York City. While some of the out of state rescued cats may have comes from far away areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of cats they should. 98 of the 102 shelters should rescue some cats from other local shelters. In fact, 64 of the 98 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single cat from other animal shelters. Of the 98 shelters with the space to rescue cats from nearby shelters, only Animal Welfare Association met or exceeded its cat rescue target. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of healthy and treatable cats.

Rescues cats

Rescues cats (2)

Rescues cats (3)

TNR Is Essential, But Should Not Be An Excuse to Do Nothing

TNR must be instituted to end the killing of healthy and treatable cats. While many shelters may potentially come close to or reach a 90% live release rate, feral cats may still be killed. Simply put, New Jersey cannot become a no kill state without TNR becoming the law of the land. The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) prevents shelters and municipalities from taking actions to hinder TNR, such as banning feral cat colony caretakers from feeding cats and lending traps out to the public for catching and killing feral cats. Even without an explicit law allowing TNR, the New Jersey Department of Health should encourage municipalities to implement TNR by changing its neutral stance on TNR to an endorsement of the practice. Furthermore, shelters, especially private facilities with animal control contracts, should refuse to take feral cats from places where TNR is prohibited and the shelter cannot place these feral cats as barn cats or send these animals to reputable sanctuaries per recommendations of many national animal welfare groups.

Shelters should not use anti-feral cat laws as an excuse for failing to institute innovative programs. Too many times shelters blame anti-feral cat ordinances for their outrageously high cat kill rates. However, my analysis proves cats are not dying in New Jersey’s shelter system due to too many cats coming into the state’s shelter system. While TNR certainly would reduce cat intake and make saving lives easier, our state’s shelter system has more than enough space to handle the number of cats that come in. Shelters need to implement key programs, such as foster care, high volume adoptions, and vaccination upon intake. Additionally, shelters need to stay open weeknights and weekends when working people can adopt. Similarly, shelters should use innovative marketing, customer friendly open adoption processes, multiple off-site adoption locations, and frequent discounted adoption promotions to quickly move cats into good homes. Thus, anti-TNR ordinances do not prevent shelters from implementing other life saving policies.

Shelters Do Not Need to Leave Friendly Cats on the Street

Shelters do not need to neuter and release friendly cats or refuse to take these cats in given enough capacity exists within the New Jersey shelter system. In 2013, a group of animal welfare leaders, which included the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and the ASPCA, prepared a white paper stating a shelter should not impound cats if those cats or other cats in the shelter would subsequently be killed. The evidence supporting this policy, such as cats being more likely to find homes on the street than in traditional shelters, is quite strong. However, my analysis shows the entire New Jersey shelter system does have enough space to handle friendly cats. While certain shelters are space constrained and could benefit from refusing to admit healthy and friendly cats, other shelters in the state have more than enough capacity to step in and find these cats homes. Thus, New Jersey shelters do not need to resort to refusing to take in friendly cats or neutering and releasing friendly cats to avoid killing cats provided these shelters work together and follow best practices.

Kitten Nurseries and Ringworm Wards Key to Saving Vulnerable Cats

Orphaned kittens are typically automatically killed in traditional animal shelters due to the time commitment required to care for these animals. Unweaned kittens require bottle feeding as frequently as every 1-2 hours. As a result, kittens not placed into foster care are typically killed in most animal shelters.

Kitten nurseries or bottle baby wards radically increase the save rate for orphaned kittens still requiring milk. While foster care and rescue programs can save unweaned kittens, kitten nurseries are more efficient and make the job easier. Austin Animal Services, which is the animal control shelter in Austin, Texas, killed 1,200 plus kittens a year before Austin Pets Alive created a bottle baby program. Volunteers work in two hour shifts to feed and care for the kittens. Additionally, nursing mothers are pulled from the city shelter and used to help nurse highly vulnerable young kittens who are orphaned. Kittens are put on antibiotics and treated for fleas and worms immediately to help prevent complications from transitioning from breast milk to formula. Austin Pets Alive has pulled as many as 2,000 kittens a year from the city shelter and saved nearly 90% of these kittens in recent years through this bottle baby program. Best Friends created a kitten nursery in South Salt Lake City, Utah and saved 1,372 kittens from Salt Lake City area shelters. Similarly, several Jacksonville, Florida animal welfare groups created a nursery program called “Kitten University” which was “on track” to saving 1,400 kittens last year. Thus, kitten nursery programs can save young and vulnerable kittens.

Ringworm ward programs easily save cats with this skin fungus. In traditional animal shelters, cats with ringworm are killed due to the risk that other animals and humans will catch this skin fungus. Austin Pets Alive created a specific “Ringworm Ward” program to treat and adopt out these cats. These cats are treated both topically and orally in an isolated area. After the cats are no longer contagious, the cats are sent to foster homes to complete their treatment and regrow their hair. Austin Pets Alive uses steeply discounted adoption fees of only $15 along with catchy slogans like “Adopt a Fun Guy (Fungi)”, “Lord of the Ringworm”, and “Hairy(less) Potter” to quickly place these cats and open up space for additional cats with ringworm. 100% of cats entering this program are saved. Thus, shelters can save cats with ringworm.

Regional kitten nurseries and ringworm wards are the practical solution to saving these vulnerable cats. Given the New Jersey shelter systems has significant excess capacity to care for cats, certain shelters should convert some of that excess space for use as kitten nurseries and ringworm wards. Creating regional centers to care for unweaned kittens and cats with ringworm would allow the programs to run at a large enough scale to work efficiently. Shelters, such as Associated Humane Societies -Popcorn Park, Monmouth SPCA, and St. Huberts – Madison appear to have the space and financial resources to implement these programs. Furthermore, the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) should take the steps needed to create kitten nurseries and ringworm wards in regional centers throughout the state. Surely, the AWFNJ has the connections to convince key decision makers to implement these programs and obtain any necessary funding. Thus, New Jersey shelter leaders must immediately take the steps needed to save the large numbers of treatable kittens and cats with ringworm in our state’s shelters.

Results Require New Jersey Animal Shelters to Take Action

The findings from this analysis mandate New Jersey animal shelters change their ways. While TNR remains a significant issue, most shelters are clearly not taking steps to save large numbers of healthy and treatable cats. Many shelters are not vaccinating upon intake, charging excessive adoption fees, making it too difficult to adopt, not being open when working people can go to shelters, leaving cat enclosures empty, and not using barn cat, foster care, kitten nursery and ringworm ward programs. Simply put, too many shelters are not doing what it takes to save lives. With nearly half of all cats entering New Jersey’s shelters dying or going missing, our state’s shelters are failing their cats.

New Jersey shelters have a cat crisis and it is time for the killing to stop. We have the information and even the blueprints from numerous communities which stopped killing and started saving their cats. It is time the excuses ended and action begins. The public is fed up with the killing and demands shelters save their animals. Our state’s animal welfare organizations need to get on board the lifesaving wagon or risk getting run over by it. Which will they choose?

Appendix Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted cat outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community cat intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty cases), number of cats returned to owners, and maximum cat capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the New Jersey Department of Health. 2012 “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports” were used for shelters failing to submit reports in 2013. East Orange Animal Shelter’s 2013 data was obtained from a local news article due to the shelter failing to submit any “Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.” Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community cat intake and cats returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 cats were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 cats (240/12). In July, the cat intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 cats by 1.2 to equal 24 cats. If 120 cats were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of cats returned to owners in July would equal 12 cats (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 cat intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community cats returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country.
  • The number of community cats euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 8% of intake. 8% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate to use given other open admission animal shelters, such as Austin Animal Services, equal or exceed this target and New Jersey’s much lower per capita cat intake makes it easier to save lives. The average length of stay for euthanized cats is assumed to equal 8 days. I assume these cats have severe and untreatable health issues and are euthanized immediately after their required 7 day hold period.
  • The average length of stay used for adopted community cats was 42 days. This estimate was roughly halfway between the average cat length of stay figures for a number of no kill animal control shelters. For example, the average length of stay for cats in recent years was 14.6 days at Texas’s Williamson County Animal Shelter, less than 18 days at Nevada Humane Society, 21 days at Colorado’s Longmont Humane Society, 33 days (32 for cats and 34 for kittens) at New Hampshire SPCA, 35 days at Montana’s Flathead County Animal Shelter, 41 days at Colorado’s Ark Valley Humane Society, and 61 days for adopted cats only at New York’s Tompkins County SPCA. While the average length of stay of adopted cats at these shelters other than Tompkins County SPCA may have been slightly higher since this data is for all cats and not just those adopted, the difference is not likely significant given adoptions represent most of the outcomes at these shelters. Unfortunately, I was not able to break down the adoption length of stay figures by age or breed for New Jersey’s shelters like I did in my analysis on dogs due to a lack of detailed cat intake data at New Jersey animal shelters. Upon reviewing cats up for adoption at several New Jersey animal control shelters and a few of the high performing facilities above, I did not see any significant differences in types of cats taken in. In the future, I hope to refine this analysis further.
  • The average length of stay used for community cats adopted out from rescue oriented shelters was 30 days. Rescue oriented animal shelters typically carefully select animals taken into their shelters. Based on the San Francisco’s SPCA’s 21 day and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s 23 day average length of stay figures reported a number of years ago, I used a shorter length of stay for community cats adopted from New Jersey animal shelters without animal control contracts. I chose 30 days as a conservative estimate.
  • Cats transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community cats not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month outside of kitten season (i.e. November-March). However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, cats are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • During kitten season (April-October), animal control shelters are assumed to send a certain percentage of cats to rescue even if they have excess space. Due to the large numbers of kittens coming into shelters during these months, I assume shelters will not be able to place all of them into foster homes or a kitten nursery at this time. As a result, I assume animal control shelters will send 10% of their annual community cat intake to rescues based on the shelters’ estimated relative cat intake each month. For example, if a shelter took 100 cats in during the year and August made up 50% of the total cat intake from April to November, 5 cats would go to rescue in August (i.e. 100*10% = 10 cats; 10*50% = 5 cats). I used 10% based off the rescue percentage of cat intake in 2014 at Kansas City’s KC Pet Project. KC Pet Project is a no kill open admission shelter with an inadequate facility and is a good comparison for some of our state’s run down shelters. Shelters requiring rescue support due to space constraints are assumed to send these additional cats to rescues during kittens season.
  • Shelters are not expected to use the excess space created by fosters taking kittens to rescue and adopt out additional cats. This is based on the assumption that the kittens will return to shelters once old enough to safely stay at the facilities.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out cats from other New Jersey animal shelters. Given some of these cats will be young and highly vulnerable kittens, I assume 5% of these rescues will be euthanized for humane reasons. I used 5% based off Austin Pets Alive’s and Austin Humane Society’s weighted average cat euthanasia rate in 2013. These two shelters pull many cats from Austin Animal Services, which is the city’s animal control shelter, and their cat euthanasia rate is a reasonable proxy for the percentage of hopelessly suffering cats rescued from animal control shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter cats are saved, I assume additional cats are pulled from nearby states. The average length of stay for rescued and adopted cats is the same as the cats taken in by animal control shelters (i.e. 42 days). Similarly, I used 8 days as the average length of stay for rescued and euthanized cats from other shelters.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many cats New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue and rescue from other nearby animal shelters.
  • The Life Saving Model assumes shelters can adopt out animals outside their service territory. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and shelters can easily adopt out cats to people outside their service area. For example, people from outside the service territory of New Jersey shelters adopt animals from these facilities and at off-site adoption locations. Based on this assumption, shelters with a lot of capacity relative to the population in their service area have higher targeted per capita adoption rates (i.e. based on the population in their service area). However, these shelters can easily adopt out animals to people outside the area they take animals from.

Rescued Helmetta Dogs Killed

Updated on 2/25/15 for additional information

After facing much public pressure for months, the NJ SPCA raided the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter on November 13, 2014. Around two weeks later, the NJ SPCA took over the shelter and put Niki Dawson in charge. At the time, I questioned the move due to past complaints about Ms. Dawson. On December 23, 2014, the NJ SPCA proudly announced all the animals were “safely relocated out of the shelter.” However, the NJ SPCA never provided any details on where these animals went and if they are still alive.

We now know four dogs (three of which were pit bull like dogs) were sent to a kill shelter in Pennsylvania. The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area is an animal control shelter that openly admits it has “so many pit bulls.” Furthermore, this shelter refuses to call itself “no kill” and one would expect it to kill many pit bulls. In fact, the shelter placed a 150 pit bull limit into its animal control contract with Harrisburg a few years ago. Less than a year later, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area stopped accepting dogs from Harrisburg altogether allegedly due to a $6,300 overdue bill from the financially distressed city. As a result of this policy, police would be the judge, jury and executioner based on this excerpt from a Harrisburg police memo:

“If the animal is vicious and a danger to the public and/or officers, or if the animal is obviously sick, injured or suffering the animal may be destroyed in as safe a manner as possible. The animal will then be taken to the Agriculture Bldg. (near the loading dock area) on Cameron St. for disposal.”

Some local animal rescuers argued this policy allowed police to simply shoot certain stray dogs. Subsequently, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area started taking dogs from the city again.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter activists recently uncovered deeply disturbing news about some of these dogs sent to Harrisburg. After getting the runaround from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area for awhile, the organization admitted the following two dogs, Max and Romeo, were killed for behavioral reasons.

Max Helmetta Killed in Pa

Romeo Helmetta Killed in Pa

One dog was adopted. The fourth dog, Athena, is currently up for adoption with some “restrictions.” Of course, given where Athena is, she too could end up being another casualty of the decision to send these dogs to the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area.

Athena Helmetta Killed in Pa
Niki Dawson’s response to one of the animal activists was quite unsettling. Ms. Dawson said she sent the dogs to this animal control shelter due to it being a HSUS and American Humane Association (“AHA”) partner shelter. HSUS and AHA are well-known for their defense of kill shelters. While Niki Dawson also stated the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area would try and rehabilitate these dogs, one has to question this shelter’s ability to do so given its past history.

The NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson could and should have saved these dogs. Romeo’s and Max’s evaluations conducted by a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant just before leaving Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter stated both dogs showed “no aggression” outside their kennels:

Helmetta Dog Romeo Killed Evaluation

Helmetta Dog Max Killed Evaluation

While no one wants truly aggressive dogs adopted out, many rescues and limited admission shelters surely would have been better equipped than a Pennsylvania animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” to provide any behavioral rehabilitation these dogs needed. Certainly, with the media attention Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter received, many rescues or limited admission shelters would have likely stepped up and helped. Clearly, the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area assisted in part due to the positive media attention it received. No doubt rescues or limited admission facilities would also get similar media coverage which could help with fundraising. Furthermore, even if these dogs could not be rehabilitated, the public would have easily donated the funds to send these dogs to a reputable sanctuary. Thus, the decision to send these four dogs, three of which were pit bull like dogs, to an animal control shelter with “so many pit bulls” is indefensible.

As I previously stated, the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson need to provide a full accounting for each animal at the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter when the NJ SPCA and Niki Dawson took over. Specifically, we need to know where each animal went, and where it is today. The longer we don’t receive this information, the less confidence the public will have in the NJ SPCA.

Significant Implications for New Jersey Shelter Reform

Both Niki Dawson and the NJ SPCA were invited to participate in State Senator Greenstein’s shelter reform roundtable. During that roundtable, Ms. Dawson argued no kill shelters were “polarizing.” Killing rescued animals and never publicly mentioning these animals were subsequently killed is “polarizing.” Frankly, this episode further reduces my confidence in these individuals to reform our shelter system. We need true reformers and not people who need reform themselves to really change New Jersey’s animal shelter system for the better.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Set Up to Fail

North_Fremantle_Railway_Bridge_collapse,_1926

As a response to the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter debacle, State Senator Linda Greenstein took up the issue of shelter reform. State Senator Greenstein’s district contains several municipalities which contracted with Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter. Ms. Greenstein found out firsthand what the true nature of many New Jersey’s shelters are like when she was denied access to the facility.

State Senator Greenstein convened a roundtable recently on reforming New Jersey’s animal shelter system. Understandably, Ms. Greenstein attempted to bring together a variety of people who could provide valuable input into the eventual drafting of shelter reform legislation. Unfortunately, many of these individuals represent obstacles to meaningful shelter reform legislation.

Humane Society of the United States and Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey Dominate Roundtable

Despite its name, the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) has been one of the biggest opponents to real shelter reform in the nation. In the 1990’s, HSUS told shelters to kill rather than send animals to rescues due to moving the animals being potentially “stressful.” In 2003, HSUS argued a shelter should not give a euthanasia list to a rescue group dedicated to saving animals from a local kill shelter. HSUS advised the shelter not to work with this rescue group arguing the rescue group was holding the shelter “hostage.” Ironically, regressive shelters often hold animals hostage in exchange for rescues not speaking the truth about these organizations. In 1998, HSUS opposed Hayden’s Act in California which prevented shelters from killing animals that rescues were willing to save. Luckily, California enacted this legislation which resulted in rescues saving large numbers of animals. During the 1990s, feral cat activists in North Carolina requested HSUS help them persuade their local shelter to allow TNR in their area. Not only did HSUS refuse to help the TNR advocates, HSUS wrote a letter to the local prosecutor stating feral cat colony caretakers should be charged with abandonment. Around 2007, HSUS raised funds from the public to “care for the dogs” seized during the Michael Vick dog fighting case, but did not care for the dogs and actually lobbied authorities to kill these dogs. Last year, HSUS stopped a Minnesota bill which would prevent shelters from killing animals rescues were willing to take, ban the gas chamber and heart sticking, and killing owner surrenders immediately. Thus, HSUS has long opposed progressive shelter reform efforts.

HSUS actions are consistent with an industry lobbying group focused on protecting the organizations it represents and not the animals. Most industries have a lobbying group to advocate for its companies’ interests. For example, the American Bankers Association works to undermine financial regulations. The American Petroleum Institute spends large sums of money to open up lands to exploit natural resources at the cost of the the environment. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is the major lobbyist for the food industry, has fought to kill legislation requiring food companies to label products with genetically modified (“GMO”) ingredients. Similarly, HSUS tries to block efforts designed to make shelters do more work and face more scrutiny. Thus, HSUS is nothing more than an industry lobbyist group with a kind name when it comes to shelter reform legislation.

The Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (“AWFNJ”) also has a poor track record. This group’s mission statement includes “uniting all New Jersey animal protection organizations”, but makes no mention of reducing the death toll at New Jersey animal shelters. Based on the most recently reported data to the Office of Animal Welfare, 27,936 dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing at New Jersey Animal shelters in a single year. This number rises to 30,048 if dogs and cats shelters failed to account for are included in the totals. Despite the severe problems at numerous New Jersey shelters in the last year, the AWFNJ was shockingly silent. In fact, the AWFNJ’s web site currently lists the former manager of one of these problem shelters as a member of its Board of Directors. The Montclair Township Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, whose Vice Chair is a local respected veterinarian, long advocated the Shelter Manager, Melissa Neiss, be replaced due to the shelter’s alleged neglect of its animals. Why should we trust an organization which allows this sort of person to serve on their Board of Directors? Even worse, the AWFNJ wrote a letter to Governor Christie in 2011 opposing new legislation preventing shelters from killing owner surrenders during a 7 day hold period. Luckily, the 7 day hold period for owner surrendered animals became law and killing owner surrendered animals within minutes of arriving at shelters is now illegal. Thus, the AWFNJ has done little to nothing to stop recent shelter abuses and tried to block essential shelter reform.

HSUS and AWFNJ have too much influence over the shelter reform roundtable. New Jersey State Director of HSUS and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, serves on the roundtable. Niki Dawson, who worked at HSUS in 2012, and recently served as AWFNJ President is also a member of the roundtable. Similarly, St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammissa, held several positions at HSUS, including Kathleen Schatzmann’s current job, and and is on the Advisory Board of AWFNJ. Additionally, the current AWFNJ President and Director of Animal Alliance, Anne Trinkle, also serves on the shelter reform roundtable. Thus, the shelter establishment industry has too much of a voice in actually reforming and regulating New Jersey’s animal shelters.

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s Failed Regulator Serves on Shelter Reform Roundtable

The Director of Middlesex County Department of Health, Lester Jones, is also a roundtable member. Mr. Jones’ agency allowed the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter to go on its merry way for years despite large numbers of complaints and poor inspection reports. Even worse, Lester Jones actually defended the shelter last August saying the problems were no big deal and again in September. Additionally, the Middlesex County Department of Health opposes TNR and Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter fulfilled Lester’s department’s wish with the facility’s catch and kill policy for feral cats. While Lester Jones did make some meaningful suggestions at the roundtable, the past history of his organization is worrisome.

Shelter Establishment Shows its True Colors at Shelter Reform Roundtable

State Senator Greenstein made some key points about New Jersey’s shelters. Specifically, State Senator Greenstein said existing shelter law and its enforcement allows many shelters to do bad things. Ms. Greenstein cited Helmetta as an example of a shelter which took too many animals in to properly care for them.

State Senator Greenstein correctly pointed out the distinction between kill and no kill shelters as follows:

“My take on this whole thing standing back on it and looking at it is that it comes down to these competing philosophies,” she said. “There’s the old-fashion philosophy which we call a kill shelter. I realize that you are pretty much taking the animals in like you would any other trash and you have to keep them for a week then you probably much expect to get rid of them and that leads to the idea of that it’s ok for them to get sick and it’s ok for the conditions not to be too clean and the state standards don’t require too much.”

She said then there the whole new philosophy that you shelters that are doing a good job are into this “no kill philosophy.”

“Try to get them adopted and do whatever you can to keep them healthy,” she said.

Despite this correct and common sense summary of the situation, the shelter industry hacks jumped in and said don’t use the words “kill” and “no kill” as it apparently hurts the feelings of people killing their animals:

New Jersey State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Kathleen Schatzmann warned that the term “no kill shelter” could be “very polarizing to certain groups.” “If perhaps we cannot use that terminology I think all of the good groups have the same end goal in mind to lessen the euthanasia rates and have as much adoption and volunteer participation as possible,” said Ms. Schatzmann.

No kill is mainstream now as major national groups, such as Maddies Fund and Best Friends use the term. In fact, Best Friends argues we should start being honest and drop the word “euthanasia” altogether and use “kill” when shelters take the lives of healthy and treatable animals. Both these groups directly are working on making large communities no kill while HSUS contributes hardly any of its funds to saving companion animals. Additionally, the more we avoid being honest about what is at stake (i.e. whether we kill animals or not), the less likely we will take action to stop it. Thus, HSUS employee and AWFNJ board member, Kathleen Schatzmann, once again shows these groups are more focused on protecting the shelter industry than the animals who are being slaughtered by the people running these so called shelters.

Former HSUS employee and ex-AWNJ President, Niki Dawson, showed where her allegiances lie with this doozy of a remark:

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Interim Director Niki Dawson agreed that the phrase should be “avoided.” “It is polarizing for those animal facilities that are doing the best that they can but may not have the resources to have an on-site behavioral trainer to work with some of the more difficult dogs,” said Ms. Dawson.

So shelters are killing animals because they can’t afford a behaviorist? This is a joke as shelters across the nation with few financial resources manage to save their dogs. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter, which serves a community with a higher poverty rate than Jersey City, saved 97% of its dogs in 2013 and only euthanized 5 dogs in 2014. Additionally, Perth Amboy Animal Shelter only spent $281 per cat and dog in 2013. As a comparison, East Orange Animal Shelter, which had horrific problems last year, spent $345 per dog and cat in 2013. Associated Humane Societies, which has its largest kill shelter in Newark, took in revenue of around $1,000 per dog and cat based on its most recently reported data. Similarly, Old Bridge Animal Shelter, which serves a middle class area, saved 99% of its dogs despite only having a budget of $152 per dog and cat in 2013. If Perth Amboy Animal Shelter and Old Bridge Animal Shelter can achieve this success with their meager funding, then other shelters can do so as well.

Shelters do not require an on-site behavioral trainer to save their dogs. Approximately 80-90% of dogs coming into shelters do not have severe behavior issues. Therefore, shelters can achieve no kill or come close to doing so without needing serious behavior rehabilitation. Shelters can hire a trainer on a part time basis or even get a trainer to volunteer their services to help the few dogs with serious behavior issues. Finally, shelters can run large scale dog play groups, such as Amy Sadler’s Playing for Life program, which significantly reduces behavior problems in shelter dogs. Most importantly, these types of playgroups do not require a trainer or behaviorist.

Niki Dawson’s comments are very disappointing, but not surprising. While I held out hope Ms. Dawson changed her ways, her past experience working at HSUS and at high kill shelters likely still impacts her mindset. While serving as Executive Director at Camden County Animal Shelter, the dog kill rate increased from approximately 20% in 2007 and 19% in 2008, the two years before Ms. Dawson’s tenure as Executive Director began near the end of 2008, to 28% in her last calender year at the shelter in 2010. In 2013, Camden County Animal Shelter’s kill rate was back down to 19%. In 2010 while Niki Dawson was assisting Liberty Humane Society, many people in the community criticized her shelter for killing dogs. In a roughly one month span, Liberty Humane Society killed 25 dogs along with 47 cats and some people questioned how the shelter used temperament testing to make life and death decisions for dogs. No kill leader, Nathan Winograd, told Ms. Dawson she was not doing enough positive outreach and she had alternatives to killing dogs. Thus, Ms. Dawson’s defense of high kill shelters is not surprising based on her fairly recent experience running these types of facilities.

St. Huberts Executive Director, Heather Cammisa, who used to work at HSUS and is on the AWFNJ Advisory Board, said New Jersey’s animal shelters are just dandy:

Executive Director of St. Hubert’s Heather Cammisa said that they have made tremendous progress in New Jersey in not euthanizing animals.”We’ve come a really far way so now that we can share how we got there with our states they look up to us as a leader,” said Ms. Cammisa. She attributes it to responsive, effective animal control in every municipality, low-cost spay and neutering accessibility and the law in 1983.

Call me crazy, but I don’t consider the loss of as many as 30,000 or more dog and cat lives in New Jersey shelters during 2013 a success. Furthermore, would you consider Ron’s Animal Shelter an example of “tremendous progress?” Ron’s Animal Shelter killed 65% and 86% of its dogs and cats in 2013 and reported virtually identical kill rates in 2006. Any state that allows a shelter to keep on operating a slaughterhouse like that is no “leader.” Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters had a combined dog and cat kill rate of 28% in 2013 while only 11% of dogs and cats were euthanized in Colorado’s animal shelters during that same year. New Jersey’s kill rate was nearly 3 times higher than Colorado’s euthanasia rate despite Colorado shelters taking in nearly 3.5 times as many dogs and cats per capita. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters are not “leaders”, they are an embarrassment.

Like Niki Dawson, Heather Cammissa’s past history working for a kill shelter likely influences her views. Ms. Cammissa served as Executive Director of the Jersey Shore Animal Center for 5 years. During her last year as Executive Director in 2006, the shelter killed 45% of its cats. Furthermore, she worked for HSUS during a tumultuous time when HSUS vehemently opposed the no kill movement. Not surprisingly, her current shelter refuses to use the term “no kill” and says its “divisive among animal welfare professionals.”

That being said, Ms. Cammissa did say New Jersey shelters need to “clean up” their data reporting. Unfortunately, many more things need fixing as well.

Animal Alliance Director and AWFNJ President Anne Trinkle claimed our laws are fine and we just need better enforcement:

“The law, as it is written, is pretty comprehensive it is just a matter of enforcement,” said Annie Trinkle, director of Animal Alliance and Welfare Federation of New Jersey.

I do agree that New Jersey animal shelter laws are reasonably good relating to humane care. Certainly, effective enforcement would help. However, the penalties for noncompliance are too weak and municipalities hold too much power when things go wrong. Additionally, more specificity on how humane care is provided, such as requiring animal enclosures be cleaned twice a day, is needed. As a result, a horrific shelter like Helmetta can continue on its merry way for far too long.

Enforcing shelter laws mandating humane care may lead to increased killing if lifesaving requirements are not put into law. Simply put, shelters can comply with existing laws cheaply and easily by killing animals right after their 7 day hold period. That is why I recommend that New Jersey enact the Companion Animal Protection Act.

Shelter Reform Roundtable Members from Outside the Animal Shelter Lobby Must Stand Up and Fight for What is Right

The shelters invited to the roundtable are not role model shelters in my opinion. While these shelters do have relatively low euthanasia rates and I’m sure provide humane care, these organizations’ contribution to making New Jersey a no kill state falls far below their potential. Specifically, these shelters are blessed with excess space relative to the number of local animals they need to adopt out and some serve very affluent areas. Unfortunately, based on my recent analysis of these shelters’ performance on dogs and an upcoming one on cats, these organizations do not save nearly as many animals from New Jersey as they should. Thus, these groups are not rock star shelters and their low euthanasia rates are due more to favorable circumstances than highly successful operations.

State Senator Greenstein said certain members of the roundtable were not interested in fundamental change. Unfortunately, this is not surprising given the number of the establishment shelter industry insiders on the roundtable.

As I’ve previously stated, our state’s shelter system needs monumental changes if we are going to become a no kill state. Specifically, we need to do the following things to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals in New Jersey:

  1. Require the Office of Animal Welfare to do quarterly inspections for every shelter in the state
  2. Institute the Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”)
  3. Enact a no kill resolution instructing all shelters to develop a plan to reach at least a 90% save rate as the Austin, Texas City Council did
  4. Mandatory data reporting in the Companion Animal Protection Act should require an audit or at least a thorough independent review for accuracy

CAPA and a no kill resolution are essential as regressive shelters will simply kill more animals after the 7 day hold period if we raise humane care standards. Furthermore, too many shelters, such as Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, will bully volunteers and rescues from speaking up about poor treatment of animals without explicit laws making this illegal. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following common sense things:

  1. Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
  2. Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
  3. Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
  4. Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
  5. Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
  6. Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
  7. Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
  8. Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
  9. Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
  10. Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
  11. Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
  12. Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
  13. Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
  14. Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
  15. Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
  16. Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses

My advice to the other roundtable members, such as the two former Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter volunteers and State Senator Greenstein, is to stand up for what is right. Do not let people with imposing sounding job titles intimidate you. The public is behind you and wants you to enact the above things. As in Austin, Texas, activists fought the Austin Animal Services shelter director and the ASPCA and made their city the largest no kill community in the country. Like the HSUS and former HSUS members on the roundtable, the ASPCA told activists not to criticize the high kill city shelter. After 1 year of implementing the ASPCA plan, killing actually increased by 11%. No kill activists subsequently convinced the City Council to implement the no kill resolution despite the ASPCA’s opposition and Austin has been a no kill city for the last four years.

To those not on the shelter reform roundtable, please contact State Senator Greenstein at this link and tell her you want fundamental change like the recommendations above.

Our shelter system is in crisis and we need to call out the defenders and enablers of the status quo. If we truly want to save our state’s homeless animals, we need to say enough is enough. Only then will we put the policies into place to make New Jersey the no kill state it should be.

New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Report Cards for Dogs

report-card

In my last blog, I disclosed New Jersey’s depressing animal shelter statistics. This blog explains why so many dogs are losing their lives in the state’s animal shelters and whether these facilities can end the killing.

Successful organizations set measurable goals and regularly monitor their performance. Examples include financial budgets, customer and employee satisfaction surveys, and product reliability metrics. Unfortunately, many animal shelters for far too long have failed to set lifesaving goals and standards. Municipalities, donors and volunteers need to know where their resources will be best utilized. Time and money are scarce resources and people should allocate these assets to organizations who will best utilize them. As a result, animal shelters need to set goals and hold their leadership and staff accountable for achieving these objectives.

Model Assesses New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Life Saving Performance

In order to assess how good of a job New Jersey animal shelters are doing, I’ve developed an analysis I call the “Life Saving Model.” While shelter performance is dependent on many variables, such as finances, facility design, local laws, etc., the most critical factor impacting potential life saving is physical space. Without having enough physical space, a shelter might not have enough time to find loving homes for its animals. Shelters can overcome financial limitations through creative fundraising or recruiting more volunteers. Similarly, organizations can save their dogs despite having run down facilities if these groups enthusiastically implement policies to get animals into loving homes quickly. As a result, my analysis focuses on making the best use of space to save the maximum number of New Jersey dogs.

The Life Saving Model measures the number of local animals a shelter should adopt out, rescue from other facilities, send to rescues or other shelters, and euthanize. The targeted outcomes take into account each facility’s physical capacity and the number and types of dogs the organization receives from its community (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases). I assume a target euthanasia rate, take the number of dogs actually returned to owners and then estimate how many community dogs a shelter should adopt out. To the extent space runs out, I then calculate how many dogs must be sent to rescue. If the shelter has excess space after properly serving its local community, the facility uses that room to rescue and adopt out dogs from nearby areas. The targeted results calculated from this model are compared to the actual or estimated actual results from each shelter below.

To read specific details and assumptions used in the model, please see the Appendix at the end of this blog.

New Jersey Animal Shelters Contain Enough Space to Save All of New Jersey’s Dogs and Many More from Other States

New Jersey’s animals shelter system has enough space to save all of the state’s healthy and treatable dogs. The table below details the targeted numbers of dog outcomes the New Jersey animal shelter system should achieve. Out of the 27,929 New Jersey dogs coming into the state’s animal shelters in 2013, 13,714 and 3,317 dogs should have been adopted out and sent to other shelters/rescues by the facilities originally taking the dogs in. However, other New Jersey animal shelters had more than enough capacity to rescue the 3,317 dogs from space constrained facilities. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters should be able to able to adopt out every single healthy and treatable dog taken in from the state and not require any support from rescue organizations without physical facilities.

New Jersey animal shelters have enough excess space to save many dogs from out of state as well. Specifically, New Jersey animal shelters had enough physical capacity to rescue and adopt out 12,352 dogs from out of state after achieving a 95% live release rate for New Jersey dogs. To put this number into perspective, New Jersey animal shelters could make both New York City and Philadelphia no kill cities for dogs and increase those cities’ dog live release rates to 95% as follows:

  • New York City – 1,771 additional dogs need saving
  • Philadelphia – 2,937 additional dogs need saving

Additionally, New Jersey animal shelters could save another 7,644 dogs from other locations outside of the state. Of course, some New Jersey animal shelters do pull some dogs from New York City and Philadelphia animal control shelters. However, most of these dogs are likely easy to adopt and therefore have short lengths of stay. As a result, the additional number of dogs New Jersey animal shelters could save from New York City, Philadelphia and elsewhere is probably not much lower than the figure above. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could make New Jersey a no kill state for dogs as well as many other places.

These adoption goals are quite achievable when comparing the performance of well-run animal control shelters across the country. New Jersey animal shelters would only need to adopt out 3.30 dogs per 1,000 people in the state (1.91 dogs if no dogs rescued from out of state). As a comparison, recent per capita dog adoption numbers from several high performing no kill open admission shelters are as follows:

  • Nevada Humane Society (Reno, Nevada area) – 8.5 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Charlottesville, Virginia area) – 9.0 dogs per 1,000 people
  • Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colorado area) – 9.1 dogs per 1,000 people

Thus, many communities are already adopting out nearly three times as many dogs as the goal set for New Jersey animal shelters.

Some naysayers may claim New Jersey would have a more difficult time due to the state’s shelters taking in many pit bulls. However, this is a myth. My model estimates New Jersey animal shelters would need to adopt out roughly 0.70 pit bulls per 1,000 people to save 95% of New Jersey’s dogs. Our shelters would only need to adopt out 1.81 pit bulls per 1,000 people if New Jersey shelters also rescued and adopted out the targeted number of pit bulls from other states. As a comparison, I estimate Longmont Humane Society adopts out 2.14 pit bulls per 1,000 people based on its per capita pit bull intake and the percentage dog adoptions are of total outcomes at the shelter. Furthermore, the pit bull adoption targets are even more reasonable given the model assumes there are roughly 2/3 less dogs to compete with in the adoption market in New Jersey than these other locations.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 (Local Targets 2)

Animal Deaths Vary Widely at New Jersey Animal Shelters

The goal of any properly managed animal shelter is to save all of its healthy and treatable animals. In some cases, such as selective admission rescue oriented shelters, it is pretty easy to not kill animals. In addition, other animal shelters with easy to service animal control contracts (i.e. few animals impounded, most strays quickly returned to owners) can avoid unnecessary killing due to having lots of extra space. As a result, some shelters may have an easier time than others in preventing killing at their shelters.

The table below compares the targeted number of community dogs (strays, owner surrenders, cruelty/bite cases) euthanized and the estimated actual local dogs euthanized/killed, and who died or went missing. Consistent with the Life Saving Model’s assumptions, the estimated actual dogs euthanized/killed/died/missing figure assumes these dogs came from the local community. All dogs missing are assumed “dead” based on the assumption they died or went to a very bad place. Shelters having less and more than the targeted amount of dog deaths are highlighted in green and red in the table below.

Surprisingly, several rescue oriented shelters’ death totals exceeded the targeted numbers. While this number may be higher if some rescued dogs are euthanized/killed (i.e. targeted number assumes no rescued dogs are), this may possibly point to overly strict temperament testing at these facilities. In the case of St. Huberts – Madison, which has a total dog death rate of 4% (i.e. percentage of all dogs taken in and not just community dogs), the total death rate may be artificially depressed by easy to adopt transported dogs. For Humane Society of Atlantic County, which has no animal control contracts, the total dog death rate of 24% is shockingly high for a rescue oriented shelter and raises serious questions about how life and death decisions are made by this organization. Other rescue oriented shelters, such as Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge and Common Sense for Animals, have significantly fewer deaths than targeted. The aforementioned shelters take a similar percentage of their dog intake from other shelters:

  • Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge – 67%
  • Common Sense for Animals – 63%
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 67%
  • St. Huberts – Madison – 69%

Thus, I find it difficult to believe St. Huberts – Madison’s and Humane Society of Atlantic County’s larger than expected number of dogs dying or gone missing is due to them rescuing a large percentage of their dogs from other shelters.

The largest number of dogs unnecessarily dying occurred at a relatively small number of shelters. Specifically, 12 out of 98 or 12% of the shelters accounted for 83% of the 3,603 unnecessary dog deaths. Shelters with the greatest number unnecessary dog deaths are as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark (553)
  • Camden County Animal Shelter (386)
  • Cumberland County SPCA (346)
  • Gloucester County Animal Shelter (310)
  • Paterson Animal Control (276)
  • Trenton Animal Shelter (220)

Furthermore, if additional unaccounted for dogs discussed in my previous blog are counted in the death totals, the number of unnecessary dogs deaths rises from 3,603 to 4,731 statewide. Associated Humane Societies – Newark’s number of unnecessary deaths jumps from 553 to 805 dogs assuming these additional unaccounted for dogs died.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (kill) (3)

Space Constrained Facilities Not Receiving Enough Support from Rescues and Other Animal Shelters

Some animal shelters will require more support from rescues and animal shelters with excess space than others. If a shelter has relatively high intake, very limited space, and few stray dogs returned to owners, it will need more help than other shelters. The table below compares the number of dogs a shelter should transfer to other organizations per the model and the number of dogs actually sent to other animal welfare groups. Shelters marked in green are receiving less than the expected rescue support while facilities marked in red are receiving too much rescue help.

Overall, New Jersey shelters are not receiving enough help from other animal welfare organizations. While the overall number of dogs rescued was only about 11%-12% lower than needed, the actual number was higher since many dogs were rescued from facilities who did not need any rescue assistance. Only 16 out of the 102 facilities require any rescue support. In other words, 86 of the 102 animal shelters in the state should not need rescues or other shelters to pull any dogs. As a result, 1,756 dogs were not rescued from shelters who truly need that support and instead were pulled from shelters not requiring this help.

Shelters hogging up the most rescue resources were as follows:

  • Associated Humane Societies – Newark – 276 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Burlington County Animal Shelter – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Humane Society of Atlantic County – 112 more dogs transferred than necessary
  • Cumberland County SPCA – 111 more dogs transferred than necessary

On the other hand, many space constrained shelters received far less rescue help than needed. Facilities who received the lowest amount of rescue support in relation to their needs were as follows:

  • Liberty Humane Society – 377 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Trenton Animal Shelter – 252 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Camden County Animal Shelter – 220 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Elizabeth Animal Shelter – 209 fewer dogs transferred than necessary
  • Paterson Animal Control – 194 fewer dogs transferred than necessary

Unsurprisingly, these shelters had some of the highest dog death rates during the year.

Rescue groups and shelters with extra space should pull dogs from kill shelters with the highest rescue “target” numbers and deficits in the table below. If shelters not needing rescue support get that extra help, these shelters will not take the steps necessary to properly run their facilities. As a result of enabling poorly performing shelters and not pulling dogs from truly space constrained facilities, rescuing dogs from shelters with enough space leads to less lifesaving.

Shelters receiving less than needed rescue support should also examine their own policies and performance. Are the shelter’s operating processes allowing too many animals to get sick and therefore discouraging organizations to rescue their animals due to subsequent medical costs? Does the shelter actively reach out to rescues/other shelters and treat them with respect? Does the shelter make it convenient for other organizations to pull their animals?

Given killing animals for space is intolerable, the space-constrained shelters need to expand their effective dog capacity. These facilities could use extra space in their buildings to house dogs on a short-term basis. These shelters can enter into arrangements with local veterinarians to house and adopt out some dogs. Furthermore, shelters can create or expand foster programs to increase the number of dogs cared for. Additionally, creating a pet owner surrender prevention program and making serious efforts to return lost dogs to owners could free up space in these shelters. Finally, space-constrained shelters with multiple animal control contracts should terminate some of these arrangements to bring their capacity for care in line with the number of dogs they take in. As a result, space constrained shelters still need to take active steps to reduce killing rather than simply solely relying on rescue support.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (killed) (3)

Most New Jersey Animal Shelters Fail to Come Close to Reaching Their Local Dog Adoption Potential

We can assess each shelter’s contribution to making New Jersey and nearby areas no kill. While a shelter may be able to avoid killing healthy and treatable animals, it still may not live up to its potential for adopting out local dogs. On the other hand, a space constrained shelter may kill healthy and treatable dogs, but still do a good job adopting animals out.

The table below compares the number of dogs from New Jersey and nearby states each animal shelter should adopt out with the estimated number of local dogs actually adopted out.

Shelters with very limited space and high kill rates as well as rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are. For example, the model assumes the mix of dogs facilities are adopting out are the same as the types of dogs these groups take in. However, if these shelters only adopt out a very small number of dogs due to limited physical capacity, the dogs adopted out may be highly adoptable ones with much shorter lengths of stay compared to the majority of dogs these facilities impound. Similarly, many rescue oriented shelters likely pull much easier to adopt dogs than the bulk of dogs needing to get rescued from local facilities. Thus, the results from shelters with very limited capacity and rescue oriented organizations may look better than they actually are.

Few organizations reached or exceeded their adoption targets. Specifically, only 7 out of 102 shelters met the adoptions goals computed by the Life Saving Model. 2 of the 7 facilities reaching the adoption targets (Denville Township Animal Shelter and Warren Animal Hospital) had very few animals to place. Thus, the overwhelming number of New Jersey animal shelters need to step up their adoption efforts.

Several shelters exceeded their adoption targets. Old Bridge Animal Shelter had the most impressive results by far. This facility adopted out nearly 4 times the number of dogs targeted by the Life Saving Model and only euthanized 1% of all their dogs who had outcomes. Surprisingly, Livingston Animal Shelter adopted out the targeted number of dogs despite having a run down facility with limited adoption hours. The facility may have accomplished this by having a caring animal control officer who could place a relatively small number of dogs. Beacon Animal Rescue also exceeded its adoption target. While this organization is a rescue oriented group, the shelter appears to help more than easy to adopt dogs as pit bull type dogs currently make up about half of their dogs up for adoption. Perth Amboy Animal Shelter also deserves credit for nearly reaching its adoption target while only 3% of its dogs were euthanized. Only a few years before, 25% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs were killed by the prior shelter management.

Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter also exceeded their targeted number of local dog adoptions. These two facilities are space constrained shelters with high kill rates and the dogs they adopted out potentially may have been more adoptable than the bulk of their dogs. In the case of Liberty Humane Society, I’ve anecdotally observed them adopting out a large percentage of pit bulls and believe they are doing a good job on dog adoptions. Either way, both Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter are performing better than many other similar facilities and rescues/other shelters should support these organizations by pulling more dogs from Liberty Humane Society and Trenton Animal Shelter.

Many shelters with the ability to help other local shelters fail to do so. New Jersey animal shelters have the potential to rescue and adopt out nearly 5 times as many dogs as the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in the state’s animal shelters. Approximately 40% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not using their existing capacity to adopt out their own dogs or rescue dogs from space constrained nearby facilities. The other 60% of the adoption shortfall is due to shelters not adopting out animals as quickly as these organizations should. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters fail to even come close to their adoption potential.

Associated Humane Societies performance is particularly disappointing. Specifically, Associated Humane Societies has the physical capacity to end the killing of all healthy and treatable dogs in New Jersey. Associated Humane Societies adoption shortfall of 5,453 dogs significantly exceeds the 3,603 dogs unnecessarily losing their lives in New Jersey animal shelters. Even if all three Associated Humane Societies’ shelters used just 50% of their reported dog capacity, the organization could reduce the number of dogs unnecessarily dying in New Jersey animal shelters by nearly half per my model. Furthermore, Associated Humane Societies may put an additional strain on New Jersey’s animal welfare system by sending dogs to other facilities and rescues in the state when Associated Humane Societies has more than enough capacity to handle its dogs. Associated Humane Societies has the funding to reach these adoption targets as the organization took in nearly $9 million of revenue last year. This works out to over $450 of revenue per dog and cat I project the shelter should take in per my Life Saving Model. As a comparison, Nevada Humane Society, KC Pet Project, and Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society, which are no kill open admission shelters, took in only $225-$415 of revenue per dog and cat. Activists wanting to increase life saving in New Jersey should focus on changing Associated Humane Societies’ policies given the lifesaving potential of this organization.

Shelters transporting dogs from out of state also significantly failed to achieve their adoption targets for New Jersey dogs. In fact, shelters rescuing dogs from out of state facilities have a New Jersey dog adoption shortfall exceeding the number of New Jersey dogs unnecessarily dying in our state’s shelters. Not surprisingly many of these facilities’ total adoptions including transported dogs exceeded the local dog adoption targets as most transported dogs are easier to adopt. These transporting shelters’ local adoption performance is even worse considering most of these organizations likely take in much more adoptable local dogs than my model targets. In addition, the revenues these transporting shelters bring in from adoption fees and dramatic fundraising stories likely divert funding from New Jersey animal control shelters. Thus, it is quite clear most transporting shelters are not doing their part in helping New Jersey’s homeless dogs.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Loc adop) (3)

Shelters Fail to Use Excess Space to Save Local Dogs

To further examine New Jersey animal shelters’ performance in saving the state’s homeless dogs, I compared the targeted number of dogs each shelter should pull from nearby shelters and compared it to the number actually rescued from local facilities. I assume all reported out of state rescued dogs came from southern or other far away states. While some of the out of state rescued dogs may have comes from nearby areas, I believe this is a small number and does not significantly impact the results.

Virtually all New Jersey animal shelters are failing to rescue the number of local dogs they should. 89 of the 102 shelters should rescue some dogs from other local shelters. In fact, 55 of the 89 shelters with targeted excess capacity failed to rescue even a single dog from a New Jersey animal shelter. Of the 89 shelters with the space to rescue dogs from nearby shelters, only Beacon Animal Rescue met or exceeded its local dog rescue target. While Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge appear to come close to their targeted local rescues, this is most likely due to these organizations pulling relatively few pit bulls. 80% of the targeted rescues are pit bulls while Animal Alliance and Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge only appear to have pit bulls representing around 20% of their dogs currently up for adoption. Thus, nearly all New Jersey animal shelters with targeted excess capacity are failing to do their share in ending the killing of local healthy and treatable dogs.

Shelters can overcome challenges in rescuing dogs from outside their service area. In some cases, municipalities may frown on government run shelters using taxpayer funds to rescue dogs from elsewhere. However, shelter directors at these facilities can encourage individuals to form a non-profit or raise money on their own to pay for these rescued dogs. Additionally, shelters with limited capacity or even some of the well-off private shelters could contribute funding for each dog rescued. For example, Maddie’s Fund paid an approximate $160 subsidy to rescues pulling dogs from New York Animal Care & Control. Similarly, private shelters with excess space, but limited financial resources, could expand their fundraising efforts to save more local dogs. Thus, perceived obstacles to rescuing local dogs can and should be overcome.

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued) (2)

NJ Shelter Model 2013 for Blog (Rescued) (3)

New Jersey Animal Shelters Need to Form Life-Saving Coalitions

The improper allocation of space within the state’s animal shelter system requires organizations to form coalitions. While putting a competent and compassionate director in every shelter would likely be even more effective, that will likely take time to do. No kill coalitions between animal control facilities and selective admission shelters have been used in places, such as Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, Jacksonville, Florida and Austin, Texas to radically increase life saving. Maddie’s Fund, which has supported using coalitions for over a decade, has many resources for organizations seeking to collaborate with each other. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters need to formally work together, develop quantifiable and measurable goals (such as the targeted outcomes in this blog), and hold each organization accountable for meeting these goals.

Sobering Results Require Shelter Leaders to Critically Examine Themselves

New Jersey animal shelters’ dismal performance is even worse considering I used conservative assumptions. Organizations were not expected to return additional lost dogs to owners despite room for significant improvement. The targeted adoption lengths of stay ranged from 34-40 days for dogs taken in from the local community and 44 days for dogs rescued from other local shelters. However, some no kill open admission shelters adopt dogs out much more quickly. For example, I estimate dogs only take about 15 days to get adopted at Williamson County Animal Shelter in Texas based on their operating data and total average length of stay. Similarly, some no kill open admission shelters, such as Greenhill Humane Society and KC Pet Project, adopt out their pit bulls in much less time than the benchmark shelters used in this analysis. 50 days was used in my model, but Greenhill Humane Society’s and KC Pet Project’s (estimated) corresponding figures are around 40 days and 19 days. Additionally, creating successful pet retention and targeted spay/neuter programs could reduce local intake and allow shelters to rescue more dogs from elsewhere. Thus, New Jersey animal shelters could save significantly more animals than the targeted numbers I computed.

Shelters should examine the reasons why their adoption numbers fall far short of these benchmarks. In some cases, shelters, such as Woodbridge Animal Shelter, need to expand the hours they are open for adoptions. Many shelters should switch from an overly judgmental adoption process based on black and white rules to a conversational one focused on educating the adopter. Organizations will need to radically increase their off-site events and do same day adoptions. Similarly, many shelters must reduce adoption fees and run frequent promotions. Executive Directors should monitor the latest life-saving programs on Maddie’s Fund’s, ASPCA Pro’s, and the Best Friends National Conference’s web sites and put some of these policies into place. Shelter management teams will need to ensure their facilities are clean and customers are treated with respect (this can be measured by encouraging the public to complete surveys). Thus, poorly performing shelters need to stop making excuses and do what it takes to reach their adoption potential.

Shelters truly wishing to save lives should be ecstatic with the results from this analysis. The organizations have the potential to save far more lives than they ever thought were possible. Will the leaders of these facilities take the initiative to improve their performance as anyone with a job outside of animal sheltering would do? Thousands of lives depend on the answer to this question.

We should support shelters financially and with our precious free time who answer this question correctly. Ralph Marston said:

Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.

We can turn New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia into no kill communities. It is time we give our money and volunteer efforts to organizations who raise their performance to help us reach that goal. To do otherwise, would betray all the animals whose lives are on the line.

Appendix – Life Saving Model Assumptions

The Life Saving Model utilizes the following basic animal shelter population equations to calculate the targeted dog outcomes for each facility:

Daily capacity or population = Daily animal intake x average length of stay

Average length of stay = Daily capacity or population/daily intake

Each shelter’s community dog intake (i.e. owner surrenders, strays, cruelty bite cases), number of dogs returned to owners, and maximum dog capacity were taken from its 2013 “Shelter/Pound Annual Report” submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, 2014 data will not be available until Fall 2015.

This data was then used as follows:

  • Community dog intake and dogs returned to owners were initially estimated for each month by dividing the annual figures by 12. In order to take into account the extra space in low intake months and reduced space in high intake months, we multiply that number by each month’s percentage of the average month. For example, assume 240 dogs were taken in during the year and the average month equals 20 dogs (240/12). In July, the dog intake is 120% higher than the average month and we therefore multiply 20 dogs by 1.2 to equal 24 dogs. If 120 dogs were returned to owners during the year, the estimated number of dogs returned to owners in July would equal 12 dogs (120/12 = 10; 10*1.2). The monthly intake percentages were based off 2013 dog intake data on the New York Animal Care & Control web site.
  • The estimated number of community dogs returned to owners each month are then assumed to stay 5 days on average at shelters based on data from other shelters across the country. If anything, this estimate is conservative (i.e. average length of stay for dogs returned to owners may be less than 5 days and therefore frees up more shelter space for adoptions) based on some shelters returning the bulk of their dogs to owners within 3 days.
  • The number of community dogs euthanized (including animals who died or are missing) is set to equal 5% of intake. 5% is a reasonable standard euthanasia rate for shelters in New Jersey to meet given few vulnerable stray puppies (i.e. who could die or require euthanasia) arrive in the state’s animal shelters. The average length of stay for euthanized dogs is assumed to equal 14.5 days. Half of dogs are assumed euthanized for untreatable aggression towards people and 21 days is the time estimated to make that determination. The other half of dogs are assumed euthanized for severe and untreatable health issues and I estimate these dogs are euthanized after 8 days (subsequent to the end of the stray and owner surrender hold periods).
  • Adopted dogs are assumed to stay at shelters for varying lengths of time. Adoption length of stay was based on data from a study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare and the figures used are located in a prior blog on pit bull adoption. The data primarily comes from Tompkins County SPCA during a time it saved over 90% of its dogs. This was a fairly conservative data set to use as other no kill open admission shelters’ average length of stay are substantially shorter. Specifically, the following assumptions were made:
    1. 80% and 20% of each communities dogs (including pit bulls) were adults 1 year and older and under 1 year.
    2. Pit bulls were assumed to comprise 50%, 35% and 25% of community dog intake at poor, middle/upper middle class, and wealthy area animal control shelters. While some shelters may have pit bulls comprising more than 50% of their shelter dog population at a given time, this is due to pit bulls longer average length of stay. For example, a shelter with pit bulls making up 50% of their dog intake and pit bulls having an average length of stay three times longer than other dogs will have pit bulls constituting 75% of the dog population. Shelters without animal control contracts were assumed to only have pit bulls make up 10% of their community dogs (i.e. strays and owner surrenders) based on most of these shelters’ highly selective admission practices.
    3. Pit bull length of stay was taken directly from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare study. The average lengths of stay for other breeds from this study were averaged and used for dogs other than pit bulls in the analysis
  • Dogs transferred to rescue or other facilities are assumed to stay at shelters 8 days on average based on the assumption strays can’t be released until the 7 day hold period elapses.
  • Community dogs not returned to owners or euthanized are initially assumed as adopted for each month. However, if the calculated length of stay exceeds the shelter’s required length of stay, dogs are moved from adoption (i.e. with a longer length of stay) to rescue (i.e. shorter length of stay) until the calculated length of stay each month approximately equals the required length of stay.
  • Required length of stay = Shelter’s reported capacity/adjusted daily intake for the month. Adjusted daily intake for month = Adjusted monthly intake per first bullet above/the number of days in the month.
  • Shelters with excess capacity are assumed to use the extra space to rescue and adopt out dogs from other New Jersey animal shelters. To the extent all healthy and treatable New Jersey animal shelter dogs are saved, I assume additional dogs are pulled from nearby states with similar types of dogs. I assume all rescued dogs will not be killed since the transferring and receiving shelters should evaluate these dogs’ behavior. Based on pit bull type dogs having longer lengths of stay at shelters, I assume 80% of dogs rescued from local animal shelters are pit bulls and 20% are non-pit bulls. 80% and 20% of pit bull and non-pit bull type dogs are considered 1 year and older and under 1 year. The average length of stay for rescued pit bulls and other dogs are the same as above.
  • Each month’s targeted outcomes are added to determine how many local dogs New Jersey animal shelters should adopt out, send to rescue, rescue from other nearby animal shelters and euthanize.

New Jersey Animal Shelter Statistics Are Far Worse Than Previously Thought

Photo of discarded dead animals from a 2009 Office of Animal Welfare inspection report of Associated Humane Societies – Newark. The Executive Director at the time is still in charge of this shelter today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most New Jersey animal shelters voluntarily report detailed data to state authorities. Last August, I shared New Jersey’s animal shelters summary statistics on my Facebook page. Each year, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare requests each licensed animal shelter in the state to submit animal shelter data for the previous year. Animal shelters voluntarily submit this data in the “Shelter/Pound Annual Report.” The Office of Animal Welfare takes these Shelter/Pound Annual Reports and compiles the number of dogs, cats and other animals impounded, redeemed, adopted and euthanized to prepare its Animal Intake and Disposition report. However, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include additional information on how animals were impounded (i.e. strays, owner surrenders, rescued from in-state facilities, rescued from out of state shelters, and cruelty/bite cases) and disposed of (i.e. returned to owner, adopted, sent to rescue/another shelter, and died/missing). Additionally, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include the number of animals in shelters at the beginning and end of the year as well as the maximum number of animals facilities can hold. Thus, the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports include very important data not found in the Office of Animal Welfare’s summary report.

I compiled the data from these reports and analyze the results in this blog. 2013 statistics for each New Jersey animal shelter are listed at this link.

Garbage Data Raises Serious Questions About New Jersey Animal Shelters’ Statistics

Several animal shelters, which reported statistics in prior years, failed to submit data in 2013. Specifically, Summit Animal Clinic in Union City, Associated Humane Societies – Tinton Falls, Mercerville Animal Hospital and Angel Pets Animal Welfare in Woodbridge disclosed this data in 2012, but did not do so in 2013. Additionally, East Orange Animal Shelter has never submitted Shelter/Pound Annual Reports to the state, but did share limited data with The Record newspaper. These shelters failure to disclose data raises serious questions. For example, are they trying to hide embarrassing statistics from the public? I’ve included these shelters’ 2012 data, and in the case of East Orange, its limited 2013 data in my analysis. Also, I performed my analysis without these shelters as well. Unless indicated below, I’ve included these shelters’ data in the analysis under the assumption the statistics would be similar if submitted to the Office of Animal Welfare in 2013.

Most New Jersey animal shelters do not properly account for their animals. Simple math dictates the number of animals at a facility at the beginning of the year, plus all animals coming in during the year, less all animals leaving for the period, should equal the number of animals a shelter has at the end of the year. Stunningly, 69 out of 100 shelters reporting these dog statistics and 71 out of 98 facilities submitting this cat data failed to get this right. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of these shelters’ reported statistics. Even worse, 54 of the 69 shelters with flawed dog statistics and 46 of the 71 facilities with incorrect cat statistics should have had more animals at the end of the year then reported. While these errors could have been due to incorrect counts of the number of animals at facilities, the more likely answer is many outcomes, such as animals killed, dying, or gone missing, were not recorded. Given 71% of the errors were due to shelters having less rather than more animals on hand at the end of the year than they should have had lends credence to the theory that errors were mostly due to shelters failing to account for various outcomes. To put it another way, 3,231 cats and dogs should have had outcomes reported and did not. Thus, there is the potential that as many as 3,231 additional dogs and cats were killed, died or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters than were reported in the last year.

Shelters may have failed to classify animals adopted out and sent to rescue properly. Both Paterson Animal Control and Elizabeth Animal Shelter reported no animals were sent to rescues and all dogs and cats leaving their facilities alive were owner reclaims or adoptions. However, rescues I know who work closely with these two facilities told me both shelters rarely adopt animals directly to the public. This makes sense as neither shelter advertized animals for adoption (i.e. no adoption web site or social medial pages) in 2013. One has to wonder how many other facilities failed to properly classify adoptions and rescues properly. This data is very important as it provides details on the burden rescues and other shelters are taking from these facilities.

We need better oversight of New Jersey animal shelters’ data reporting. Currently, these statistics are voluntarily reported and most shelters are not taking this seriously. For example, I noticed a large number of reports were submitted many months after the end of the year. This data should be easy to compile since facilities can utilize animal shelter software programs, some of which are free, to do this task. Furthermore, New Jersey animal shelter laws mandate facilities maintain much of the raw data found in the Shelter/Pound Annual Report. Unfortunately, Office of Animal Welfare inspections routinely find shelters do not properly keep records on animals. We need to make the Shelter/Pound Annual Report mandatory for animal shelters along with serious penalties for significant errors (especially if deliberate). In order for animal shelters to take data reporting seriously, we may also need to require audits of these reports. Thus, these results show we need stronger laws and the Office of Animal Welfare to play a greater role in ensuring reported animal shelter statistics are in fact accurate.

Despite the errors in these reports, the data provided still reveals important information.

More Animals Losing Their Lives in New Jersey Animal Shelters Than Previously Believed

The more detailed data in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports allows one to more critically examine the percentage of locally impounded animals dying in New Jersey’s animal shelters. The following table summarizes my analysis of the kill/death rate calculated from the Office of Animal Welfare’s summary report and the data reported in the Shelter/Pound Annual Reports.

Totals

The Animal Intake and Disposition report prepared by the Office of Animal Welfare only allows one to calculate the number of animals killed as a percentage of total animals impounded or intake. I prefer calculating the kill rate as a percentage of outcomes rather than intake as this metric directly compares positive and negative outcomes. Using intake depresses the kill rate since shelters can simply hold animals for a long time to the point of overcrowding. Calculating kill rate based on outcomes rather than intake increases the dog kill rate from 13.4% to 13.9% and the cat kill rate from 38.5% to 39.2%.

To calculate the statewide kill rate, we must also back out transfers from one New Jersey animal shelter to another state facility to avoid counting animals still in the state’s shelter system or registering two outcomes for the same animal (i.e. one New Jersey animal shelter transfers a dog or cat to another state facility who then adopts out the animal). This adjustment increases the dog kill rate from 13.9% to 14.5% and the cat kill rate from 39.2% to 40.8%.

In addition, we should increase the kill rate for animals dying or gone missing in shelters. I label this metric the death rate as these animals are likely dead or in a very bad situation. After making this adjustment, the dog death rate increases from 14.5% to 15.5% and the cat death rate rises from 40.8% to 46.8%.

Also, many shelters transport easy to adopt animals from out of state which artificially increases save rates. To properly calculate the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives, we need to adjust for transports. Unfortunately, shelters don’t break out their save rates by local and out of state animals. However, most likely nearly all of the out of state animals (primarily puppies and easy to adopt dogs) make it out of shelters alive. Therefore, I back out the number of out of state transports to estimate the local death rate. This adjustment increases the New Jersey dog death rate from 15.5% to 18.9% and the state cat death rate from 46.8% to 47.4%.

Also, I estimate a maximum local death rate by including the number of unaccounted for animals described in the section above. Making this adjustment increases the maximum potential New Jersey dog death rate from 18.9% to 22.1% and the maximum potential state cat death rate from 47.4% to 49.5%.

Finally, the maximum potential New Jersey cat death rate decreases slightly from 49.5% to 49.4% if I include the 2012 data from shelters who failed to report statistics in 2013 to the Office of Animal Welfare. Thus, the percentage of New Jersey animals losing their lives in our state’s animal shelters may be much higher than previously thought.

Death Rates Extremely High at a Number of New Jersey Animal Shelters

Dogs and cats are likely to lose their lives or go missing at a number of New Jersey animal shelters. Shelters with the highest death rates for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (6)

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (7)

Thus, both dogs and cats have a very good chance of leaving many New Jersey animal shelters dead rather than alive.

Many shelters fail to account for large numbers of their animals. As discussed above, a shelter’s number of animals at the end of the year should be calculated as follows:

Beginning number of animals + animals impounded – animals leaving the shelter

Unfortunately, a large number of shelters take in far more animals than they can explain where they went. Shelters having the highest numbers of unaccounted for dogs and cats are listed in the following tables:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (8)

Unacct cats

Dog and cat death rates at many shelters may be even higher if these unaccounted for animals are counted as dead or missing. If we only consider animal shelters which don’t or rarely transport, facilities with the highest dog and cat death rates considering the unaccounted for animals described above are as follows:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (2)

Max pot cats po

Thus, the plight of dogs and cats may be far worse in New Jersey animal shelters when we consider the unaccounted for animals.

Shelters Turn Their Backs on New Jersey’s Animals

New Jersey animal shelters rescue far more animals from out of state than other New Jersey animal shelters. Specifically, 5,676 dogs were transferred from out of state animal shelters compared to only 1,410 dogs taken in from other New Jersey animal shelters. While perhaps some shelters, such as Animal Alliance in Lambertville, take animals from nearby New York or Pennsylvania animal control shelters, the overwhelming majority of these dogs most certainly came from down south. In fact, New Jersey animal shelters transported more dogs from out of state than dogs who were killed in, died in or went missing from New Jersey animal shelters. This number does not include additional dogs transported in from out of state by rescues operating without a physical facility. Shelters transporting the most dogs from out of state were as follows:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (5)

New Jersey animal shelters transported 642 cats from out of state while nearly 50% of cats in the state’s animal shelters were killed, died or went missing. Animal Welfare Association (280 cats received from out of state) and Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter (211 cats received from out of state) rescued more cats from out of state facilities than New Jersey animal shelters. In the case of Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter, the organization’s Executive Director told me these cats were rescued from New York Animal Care and Control. One can only hope the out of state cats rescued by other New Jersey animal shelters came from nearby New York and Pennsylvania facilities rather than from shelters far away down south.

Return to Owner Rates Better Than Average at Most Shelters

Return to owners (“RTO”) rates are one of the positive results from this analysis. Overall, the dog and cat RTO rates of 52% and 4% are approximately twice the national average. As I noted in my blog on reuniting lost pets with owners, return to owner rates are highly correlated with socioeconomic status. Wealthier people likely have more resources/knowledge to license and microchip their dogs. Similarly, people with greater incomes are more likely to afford reclaim fees or ransom payments to animal shelters. New Jersey’s RTO rates for dogs clearly fit this pattern with shelters serving wealthy towns returning most stray dogs to owners while urban shelters are only returning about one fifth of lost dogs to owners. Clearly, we need to help people in urban areas get microchips and ID tags on their dogs. Additionally, we need to create pet help desks at shelters in these cities to help people pay the reclaim fees, which are often mandated by the cities themselves, when necessary. The statewide cat reclaim rate, like figures from across the nation, is still very low and suggests shelters need to figure out better ways to get lost cats back to their families. New Jersey should allow shelters to transfer stray cats to rescues during the mandatory 7 day hold period since few are returned to owners at shelters. This would open up space to save more cats and reduce the chance of disease (i.e. cats spending less time in shelters are not as likely to get sick).

Shelters Leave Animal Enclosures Empty While Dogs and Cats Die

New Jersey animal shelters fail to use their space to save animals. Based on the average number of animals at all of New Jersey’s animal shelters at the beginning and the end of 2013, only 61% of dog and 66% of cat capacity was used. Given December is a low intake month, I also increased these populations to an average intake month. This adjustment only raised the dog and cat capacity utilization to 62% and 87%. These estimates likely overestimate the average capacity utilized as many facilities kill animals once they reach a certain population level. Many animal shelters with low kill rates failed to rescue animals with their excess space. Additionally, other shelters used little of their available space and still killed a large percentage of their animals. Some examples after increasing the population (and therefore capacity utilization) based on the adjustment discussed above are as follows:

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (11)

NJ Shelter Rates Tables (13)

Thus, many New Jersey animal shelters are killing dogs and cats despite having ample space to house these animals.

New Jersey’s animal shelters continue to fail the state’s animals. The state’s animal control facilities only impound 8.7 animals per 1,000 New Jersey residents. As a comparison, the average community in the country impounds anywhere from 14-30 animals per 1,000 residents based on estimates from Animal People Newspaper and the Humane Society of the United States. Despite New Jersey shelters impounding a fraction of the animals other no kill communities take in on a per capita basis, the state’s animal control facilities continue to kill and allow animals to die under their care. Even worse, many of these shelters can’t even properly keep track of how many animals leave their facilities dead or alive. Our state’s animals deserve far better treatment than this. Contact your local city council members and mayor and demand better from the animal shelter serving your community. We can do this so let’s get to work!

New Jersey’s Lawless Animal Shelters Need Policing

Recently, terrible conditions at New Jersey animal shelters became well-publicized. The NJ SPCA took over Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter in January after Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter’s Board President was charged with animal cruelty for failing to provide proper care to a number of cats at the facility. In March, Jersey Animal Coalition failed a joint state Office of Animal Welfare and South Orange inspection resulting in the shelter’s planned closing in November. The Office of Animal Welfare inspected the East Orange Animal Shelter in June and found horrific problems. During June, Elizabeth Animal Shelter illegally killed an owner’s two dogs before the 7 day state mandated hold period elapsed. In July and August, the Office of Animal Welfare inspected Linden Animal Control and requested Linden’s Health Officer shut the facility down. The Office of Animal Welfare also documented significant problems at Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter in July and the problems continue to exist today. Local animal activists in Montclair documented Montclair Township Animal Shelter violating New Jersey animals shelter laws, such as failing to maintain adequate temperatures in the facility, using toxic solutions of chemicals causing burns and possibly lung injuries to shelter animals, and failing to provide prompt veterinary care. As a a result of these events, animal activists in New Jersey are becoming aware of the crisis in our state’s animal shelters.

New Jersey Animal Shelter Laws Are Pretty Good

New Jersey’s animal shelter laws are pretty good relative to other states. Our stray/hold period of seven days is longer than most states. New Jersey also prevents its shelters from killing owner surrendered pets immediately by requiring these animals be held 7 days or sent to rescue. Furthermore, state animal shelter laws require facilities to have a supervising veterinarian who approves a disease control program that addresses “both the animals’ physical and psychological well-being.” N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.9 also mandates “animals displaying signs of stress shall be provided with relief pursuant to the disease control and health care program.” New Jersey shelters must also keep their facilities clean and use solutions and products that will not harm the animals. Finally, specific rules exist to help ensure euthanasia is done as humanely as possible.

Local Boards of Health Fail Miserably at Enforcing New Jersey Animal Shelter Laws

New Jersey animal shelter laws are largely enforced by local boards of health rather than the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare. Under N.J.A.C. 8.23A-1.2 (b), animal shelters must pass an annual inspection by the local health authority. The New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare, which is tasked with ensuring sanitary and humane conditions exist at New Jersey’s animal shelters, also has the right under state law to inspect these facilities. In practice, the Office of Animal Welfare rarely inspects animal shelters. Ultimately, local municipalities through a recommendation by the local health authority or the state Office of Animal Welfare can revoke an animal shelter’s license.

The shocking conditions exposed this year at northern New Jersey animal shelters prove local health authorities cannot adequately enforce the state’s animal shelter laws. Prior to the NJ SPCA arresting Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter’s Board President in January 2014, the Office of Animal Welfare issued a scathing inspection report on October 23, 2013. The inspection report noted Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter housed sick and healthy cats together, kept cats with feces all over their feet and legs, failed to provide sick kittens covered in feces prompt vet care, allowed cats and kittens to have eye discharge so severe they couldn’t open their eyes, illegally killed animals before the 7 day hold period elapsed, and routinely used heart sticking to kill animals. Jersey Animal Coalition, which performed poorly in state Office of Animal Welfare inspections from 2005 – 2007, passed subsequent South Orange inspections and then miserably failed an Office of Animal Welfare inspection in March 2014. The inspection report noted sick/injured animals and animals under severe psychological stress were not treated, massive amounts of feces within and outside the facility, sick and healthy animals were housed together, no disease control program approved by a veterinarian, and animals not provided adequate amounts of water. The Office of Animal Welfare inspected East Orange Animal Shelter in June and reported animals inundated with a toxic feces and chemical filled soup, a fly infestation so severe that animals with open wounds and skin lesions were in danger of having maggots grow inside them, cats not provided with enough water and water they did have was contaminated with cat litter, and improper isolation of sick animals. Montclair’s Board of Health was “unable to locate” legally required inspections from 2010 and 2012, and took a grand total of an hour and 45 minutes and 60 minutes to conduct inspections in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Montclair’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee documented numerous problems going on for years, such as dogs exposed to the elements, animals left isolated for extended times, and water not being properly supplied to dogs and cats. In October, Clifton Animal Control allegedly forced an owner to surrender their dog and then illegally killed the family pet before the required 7 day hold period elapsed. Thus, we clearly see local boards of health cannot properly ensure New Jersey’s animal shelters are kept sanitary and run in a humane manner.

Reports of serious violations of state animal shelter laws at various central central New Jersey facilities show the problem exists throughout the state. Elizabeth Animal Shelter, which presumably passed the Elizabeth Board of Health’s annual inspections, apparently routinely illegally killed owner surrendered animals. Based on reports at the time, the Elizabeth Animal Shelter told a person surrendering two dogs, which he did not own, to bring the dogs in on their weekly kill day and the shelter executed the animals that very same day. Linden’s Board of Health failed to even perform legally required annual inspections of Linden Animal Control from 2007-2012. When the state Office of Animal Welfare inspected the facility on two occasions, the Office of Animal Welfare requested Linden close the facility immediately due to the horrific conditions. Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter inspections conducted by the Middlesex County Board of Health and Office of Animal Welfare turned up serious problems for years, but the very same local regulator continues to say everything is good. At the same time, activists documented terrible conditions and blatant violations of New Jersey animal shelter and federal controlled substance laws. As a result, local boards of health fail to do the necessary job of ensuring animal shelter laws are properly enforced.

The failure of local boards of health to properly enforce animal shelter laws is not surprising. In reality these entities are ill-equipped to inspect animal shelters. Local boards of health are used to inspecting places, such as restaurants, which are far different than animal shelters. In reality, animal shelters are more akin to hospitals than restaurants and other businesses local boards of health usually inspect. The New Jersey Department of of Health and several other public and private entities inspect health care facilities for compliance with state and federal laws at least annually. As a result, the New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare should regulate the state’s animal shelters in a similar manner as the New Jersey Department of Health regulates hospitals and other health care facilities.

Local health departments are not independent from many of the shelters these agencies regulate. While local Health Officers must be licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health, these Health Officers and their personnel are employees of local governments. As such, these local health departments will typically not want to rock the boat. After all, would you want to tell the elected official, who is your boss, that his or her animal shelter failed to comply with New Jersey laws? Clearly, the costs to fix, which would either increase property taxes or reduce spending on other popular programs, and negative press hurt the reelection prospects of these local politicians. When you consider the state Office of Animal Welfare rarely performs independent inspections, local Health Officers have a strong incentive to not enforce New Jersey’s animal shelter laws. Thus, the system to regulate New Jersey’s animal shelters is set up to fail.

NJ SPCA Cannot Effectively Regulate Animal Shelters

The NJ SPCA, which are New Jersey’s animal police, has limited authority and will to clean up the state’s animal shelters. This private group, which holds police powers relating to animal cruelty law enforcement, typically handles animal shelters with kid gloves. For example, several people told me the NJ SPCA was notified of Jersey Animal Coalition’s problems years ago, but never acted until after the state Office of Animal Welfare and South Orange Board of Health asked the NJ SPCA to investigate Jersey Animal Coalition for animal neglect/cruelty last March. After seven months, the NJ SPCA has yet to conclude its investigation, but stated last May they would first work with the shelter to clean up its issues before bringing animal cruelty charges. Apparently, this cleanup never happened since Jersey Animal Coalition is closing and the NJ SPCA does not look like it will charge anyone. Similarly, the NJ SPCA’s Monmouth County guy, Buddy Amato, gave Helmetta Regional Animal shelter a glowing report in August despite numerous inspections, photos, and complaints proving otherwise. Subsequently, the NJ SPCA came to the shelter again and found major issues, but gave management 30-60 days to fix their problems. In 2012, Buddy Amato defended several Monmouth County towns who illegally killed feral cats before the state mandated 7 day hold period elapsed. Even when the NJ SPCA did take action against Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, the courts put the former Board President charged with animal cruelty back in charge. As a result, the NJ SPCA’s and the courts coddling of cruel animal shelter directors encourages all animals shelter directors to act in their own, rather than the animals, interest.

New Jersey Department of Health’s Office of Animal Welfare Needs to Directly Enforce State Animal Shelter Laws

The Office of Animal Welfare needs to dramatically increase the number of its animal shelter inspections. From January 1, 2013 through August 6, 2014, the Office of Animal Welfare only inspected six different animal shelters out of one hundred plus facilities in the state housing dogs or cats. The Office of Animal Welfare only has one inspector, Linda Frese, to police over one hundred animal shelters plus countless pet shops statewide. Luckily, Linda Frese performs thorough inspections and does terrific work. However, Ms. Frese needs lots of help to ensure all shelters are inspected properly. Given the crisis at our state’s animal shelters, the Office of Animal Welfare needs to hire enough inspectors to ensure every animal shelter in the state is inspected on a quarterly basis. Additionally, the Office of Animal Welfare should conduct these inspections without notifying local health departments to ensure these are truly surprise inspections.

New Jersey must pass new legislation providing the Office of Animal Welfare full power to close down terrible animal shelters. Under current law, the Office of Animal Welfare can only recommend that a municipality revoke an animal shelter’s license. As a result, local politicians currently can allow terrible animals shelters to continue neglecting their animals. Thus, the independent state Office of Animal Welfare must hold this authority to ensure New Jersey animal shelters are run properly.

Companion Animal Protection Act Needs to Become State Law

New Jersey shelter laws and the Office of Animal Welfare encourage shelter killing. Animal shelters in the Garden State may kill animals for any reason after seven days. For far too many shelters it is simply easier and cheaper to kill animals after one week. After all, if you have fewer animals in your facility you don’t have to clean, feed, and provide veterinary care to those animals. In fact, the Office of Animal Welfare actually encourages shelters to kill and advises municipalities to contract with kill rather than no kill shelters. As a result, New Jersey must pass legislation to force shelters to stop killing and start saving their animals.

The Companion Animal Protection Act (“CAPA”) needs to become law to ensure shelters save rather than take lives. CAPA requires shelters to follow many parts of the no kill equation, which is a series of programs proven to reduce or actually end the killing of savable animals. Specifically, CAPA requires animal shelters/municipalities do the following:

  1. Implement TNR and prohibit anti-feral cat policies
  2. Develop detailed animal care protocols for all animals, which includes nursing mothers, unweaned kittens and puppies, and animals which are old, sick, injured or needing therapeutic exercise
  3. Clean animal enclosures at least two times per day to maintain proper hygiene and be welcoming to prospective adopters
  4. Not kill any animal a rescue is willing to take
  5. Prohibit banning of rescues unless the rescue is currently charged with or convicted of animal cruelty/neglect
  6. Contact all rescues at least two business days before an animal is killed
  7. Match lost pet reports with animals in shelter and post stray animals on the internet immediately to help find lost pets owners
  8. Promote animals for adoption using local media and the internet
  9. Adopt animals out seven days a week for at least six hours each day, which includes evenings and weekends when potential adopters are likely to visit
  10. Not have discriminatory adoption policies based on breed/age/species/appearance (i.e. can’t prohibit pit bull, elderly pet, etc. adoptions)
  11. Offer low cost spay/neuter services, substantive volunteer opportunities to the public, and pet owner surrender prevention services
  12. Not kill any animals when empty cages exist, enclosures can be shared with other animals, or foster homes are available
  13. Shelter Executive Director must certify they have no other alternative when killing/euthanizing an animal
  14. Publicly display animal shelter intake and disposition statistics (i.e. numbers of animals taken in, adopted, returned to owner, killed, etc) for the prior year
  15. Provide the local government and the public access to the intake and disposition statistics each month
  16. Pet licensing revenues must be used to fund low cost spay/neuter and medical care for shelter animals rather than go to other government uses

Passing CAPA will require a huge fight as many New Jersey’s animal shelters along with the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and ASPCA will lobby against these common sense reforms. HSUS and the ASPCA fought similar reform efforts in many other states, such as New York, Minnesota, and California. However, this is a fight we must take on. CAPA, quarterly shelter inspections by the Office of Animal Welfare, and giving the Office of Animal Welfare the power to shut shelters down will spur massive improvements in the state’s animal shelters. Non-compliant municipalities and private animal shelters will face stiff penalties and therefore will dramatically change their ways.

As the past year showed us, we no longer can wait for municipalities and animals shelters to police themselves. Now is the time for a new sheriff to ride into town to bring law and order to our animal shelters. We can make this happen by demanding our state senators and local assemblymen/assemblywomen pass these laws to improve our shelter system. State Senator, Linda Greenstein, seems quite amenable to reforming our state’s shelter system and is someone we should work with.  Animal lovers are a huge voting block and New Jersey politicians better take us seriously. Enough is enough and if the politicians won’t help, we will show them the door. We can do this so let’s get to work!

Helmetta’s Hellhole of a Shelter

Recently, Helmetta Regional Animal shelter has come under fire. A newly created Facebook page, Reform the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, and web page details very concerning issues on a daily basis. The documentation includes terrible inspection reports, shocking photos, and detailed accounts from adopters, volunteers and former employees. Most impressively, the Facebook and web pages clearly articulate these points and come across as highly credible.

Helmetta’s Questionable Shelter Project

The shelter opened up in 2011 with a lot of publicity. Helmetta issued $1.9 million in bonds to fund the construction. Mayor Nancy Martin at the time stated “The borough took an area which was in need of redevelopment and built a beautiful state of the art facility that serves 21 Middlesex and Monmouth County municipalities.” Helmetta uses the facility to shelter its homeless animals and numerous other municipalities in exchange for animal control contract fees.

Mayor Nancy Martin hired friends and family to run the shelter. Nancy Martin, who also serves as tax collector of Perth Amboy, hired Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s former shelter’s managers, Michal Cielesz, and her husband, Richard Ceilesz, to run the new shelter. The couple killed 37% of Perth Amboy Animal Shelter’s dogs and cats per the shelter’s report to New Jersey’s Office of Animal Welfare during their last year in 2010 compared to the new management’s 4% euthanasia rate in 2013. However, Perth Amboy’s police department records show the Cielesz’s killed 43% of the dogs and cats impounded in 2010. Additionally, the Perth Amboy police department reported only 12 dogs and cats were adopted out of 507 dogs and cats impounded during the Cielesz’s last year running the Perth Amboy Animal Shelter. Mayor Nancy Martin also landed her son, Brandon Metz, the head Animal Control Officer job at the shelter and even got the town to approve her son receiving $50 per animal control call “after normal business hours (which may be as early as 3 pm on weekdays and weekends based on some animal control contracts). According to a 2011 town newsletter, the Mayor’s son also receives $1,000 per animal control contract. To further support her son, Mayor Martin even got the town’s taxpayers to pay her son additional hourly wages to clean kennels. Mayor Martin’s son also serves as Borough Laborer, Water Meter Reader, and Certified Recycling Coordinator. As a result, Mayor Martin appears to use a significant amount of the shelter’s funding to pay her friends and family.

The shelter brings in a significant amount of money to Helmetta. In 2013, the shelter earned $415,959 in revenue from its animal control contracts and shelter operations and only incurred $280,125 in related expenses. As a result, Helmetta earned a $135,834 profit from running its shelter. However, the shelter also has debt service costs to cover from Helmetta’s $1.9 billion bond issuance to build the shelter. Per borough officials, Helmetta pays $80,000 – $90,000 of debt service costs each year resulting in the shelter’s net positive cash flow of only around $45,834 – $55,834. The shelter would have negative cash flow of approximately $63,000 – $73,000 without other fees primarily from dogs transported for adoption from out of state shelters. As a result, Nancy Martin’s shelter project has a very thin margin of error to financially succeed.

Helmetta’s Flawed Financial Model Requires Running a Regressive Shelter

Helmetta’s shelter was designed as a profit making enterprise. In a 2011 newsletter to Helmetta residents, Mayor Nancy Martin argued Helmetta was building the shelter to provide a “source of revenue to keep the tax base stable” after the town’s previously hyped real estate redevelopment project on the property fell apart. Mayor Martin also stated each additional animal control contract brought “additional revenue” and was “pure profit.” Thus, the town and the Mayor’s son were to profit from homeless animals in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties.

Helmetta entered into animal control contracts with too many municipalities. To a certain extent, entering into multiple contracts makes financial sense as the revenues earned from such contracts more adequately cover fixed overhead costs, such as the Executive Director’s salary and utilities. However, Helmetta took this to an extreme and impounds too many animals for the space it has. For example, in 2012 Helmetta impounded 483 local dogs. Based on the shelter’s assumed capacity of 33 dogs, these dogs would only have 25 days before no space was left for these animals. To make matters worse, the shelter’s animal control contracts pay Helmetta on a per animal basis and encourage impounding more animals. Furthermore, Mayor Martin’s son, Brandon Metz, opposes TNR in most places and conveniently allows him to bring in more of his $50 per hour “after normal business hours” fees. As a result, Helmetta and the Mayor’s son literally profit off taking in too many animals and killing them.

Helmetta’s original shelter projections grossly underestimated the cost to properly care for animals. In the 2011 newsletter, Helmetta only forecasted total shelter costs, which includes expenses unrelated to animal care, would equal $57 per animal. Even the most efficient and effective shelters, such as KC Pet Project and Nevada Humane Society, incur much higher costs. For example, if Helmetta spent the $218-$395 per animal as these shelters pay, Helmetta’s originally projected $58,000 profit from running the shelter would turn into a $204,000 – $602,000 loss. These private shelters make up for their funding deficiency through fundraising, but Helmetta cannot receive these kind of monetary donations as a government run shelter. As a result of this gross underestimation of sheltering costs, the shelter needed to find other ways to make money to support the Mayor’s grand plan.

Helmetta’s Money Making Rescue Operation

Helmetta’s shelter transports massive numbers of easy to adopt dogs and puppies each year from southern states to the detriment of local dogs. Per the facility’s 2012 Shelter/Pound Annual Report, Helmetta transported 400 dogs in from other communities, 382 of which came from out of state. These additional animals reduce the time dogs have to stay in the shelter before space runs out from 25 to 14 days based on the assumptions above. Furthermore, the shelter impounded many more dogs in 2013 presumably due to increased transports. Based on the 1,296 dogs impounded in 2013 and the assumed capacity of 33 dogs, dogs would only have 9 days before space ran out at the shelter. Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter significantly reduces the chances of the contracting towns dogs from finding loving homes by transporting massive numbers of out of state dogs.

Transporting animals increases risk of disease at the destination shelter. Transported dogs often bring new and virulent diseases to shelters. The shelters exporting the dogs usually lack proper disease prevention/containment procedures. For example, the source shelter’s need to transport (i.e. overcrowding, lack of resources) often leads to animals being more likely to come down with serious diseases. Additionally, the trip to the new shelter can cause the animals to get sick due to overcrowding in vehicles and stress. Making matters worse, young puppies, whose mothers might not be vaccinated, transported on such trips do not have fully developed immune systems may be even more susceptible to getting sick. Dr. Kate Hurley, Director of the University of California Davis Shelter Medicine Program, who is one of the nation’s leading shelter medicine experts, argues shelters, such as Helmetta, must “have adequate veterinary resources and isolation rooms to
quarantine the animals.” Thus, Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter must have a top notch facility and procedures to transport hundreds of out of state animals each year.

Helmetta should incur significant costs for transporting and caring for these dogs brought to New Jersey. The town’s accounting records show Helmetta pays $400 to transport 10-13 dogs and puppies or approximately $35 per dog/puppy. Maddie’s Fund shelter financial management template estimates dogs staying at the shelter 21 days on average should cost $245 ($16 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $53 to vaccinate/de-worm, $66 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems) to properly care for assuming all animals require medical treatment. Similarly, puppies staying at the shelter for only 14 days should cost $187 ($5 to feed, $50 to spay/neuter, $54 to vaccinate/de-worm, $18 to hold in facility, $10 for dog supplies and $50 to treat medical problems). The town’s adoption fees of $200 per puppy, $150 per vaccinated dog and $100 per unvaccinated dog would result in the following losses per animal:

1) Puppy – $22 loss
2) Dog ($150 fee) – $130 loss
3) Dog ($100 fee) – $180 loss

Helmetta’s shelter must cut corners to make a profit off the transported dogs and puppies. The shelter does not vaccinate animals upon intake or spay/neuter dogs and cats it adopts out. Additionally, Helmetta does not have enough staff to care for its animals. The National Animal Control kennel staffing guidelines argue Helmetta should have 15 kennel staff caring for the 182 animals it had at the shelter on July 16, 2014. However, the Middlesex County Department of Health found only 4 employees cleaned the facility in the morning and either the shelter director or another employee, such as an animal control officer, cared for animals after 12 noon when the shelter had a similar number of animals.  Skimping on cleaning staff leads to the following heartbreaking images at Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter:

Helmetta Filth 3

Helmetta Filth 2

Helmetta Filth 1

Furthermore, Helmetta provides little to no medical care for its animals. For example, the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Ehab Ibraheim, only visits the shelter monthly for a paid inspection. While Helmetta’s contracts allow the shelter to bill the municipalities for veterinary costs, the shelter does not profit from providing care and the extra fees could encourage these municipalities to not renew their contracts. The billings from several large contracting municipalities show Helmetta rarely provides veterinary care. Additionally, numerous adopters have come forward complaining of gravely sick animals to the point the borough council had to vote to refund the adoption fees. Countless images show the ramifications of not providing proper veterinary care for the shelter’s animals:

Helmetta sick animals 2

Helmetta sick animals

Helmetta sick animals 3

Helmetta’s cutting corners turns its shelter’s financial performance around. The $22 loss per transported puppy transforms into $142 profit per puppy when you don’t employ enough kennel staff and withhold vaccinations, veterinary care, and dog supplies. Similarly, the $130 loss per transported dog with a $150 adoption fee turns into a $33 profit per dog when proper care is not provided. Thus, Helmetta literally makes money off animals suffering.

State and Local Inspections Consistently Reveal Significant Problems

Helmetta’s shelter performed poorly in two New Jersey Office of Animal Welfare inspections. In October 2011, the inspector found the new facility’s kennel flooring was not impervious to moisture and therefore a disease vector. Furthermore, the inspection report noted kennels were not physically cleaned due to lacking enough staff. Additionally, Helmetta did not use the proper cleaning solution when they did happen to attempt to disinfect animal enclosures. The inspection report also noted the shelter’s “Veterinarian of Record” did not approve the shelter’s disease control program and the facility lacked a dedicated isolation area to prevent the spread of disease. The inspection report also noted improper euthanasia documentation and record keeping. In a follow-up inspection a month later, these same problems persisted.

Middlesex County Health Department inspections in October 2012 and July 2014 also documented widespread violations of New Jersey shelter laws. Both inspections revealed the “Veterinarian of Record” did not design, review or approve the facility’s disease control program or individual animal treatment protocols. The inspection reports also revealed kennel flooring continued to allow moisture to build up creating a ripe environment for disease to spread. Additionally, shelter management failed to isolate sick animals and keep proper records. The July 2014 report also noted management failed to properly clean the facility and even used food cans as water bowls. If lack of veterinary care at Helmetta wasn’t bad enough, the shelter transported dogs from out of state without legally required health certificates from a veterinarian. Thus, Helmetta continued to allow serious problems to persist for nearly three years at their “state-of the art facility.”

The repeated violations of New Jersey shelter law are consistent with Helmetta’s profit off the back of animals financial model. Hiring more people to clean, having a veterinarian approving a disease control program and providing proper care to animals, building a proper isolation area all cost money. Additionally, inaccurate record keeping could allow the shelter to kill animals before the 7 day required hold period, over-bill municipalities and even allow employees to sell pets themselves. As a result of Helmetta’s stated goal of profiting from the shelter are consistent with these recurring violations.

NJ SPCA Has No Credibility on the Helmetta Shelter Issue

Monmouth County SPCA’s Chief Humane Law Enforcement Officer’s recent email to Mayor Martin destroyed the NJ SPCA’s credibility on this issue. In the letter, Buddy Amato praised Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s cleanliness, staff, and shelter operations contradicting numerous inspection reports and countless other accounts. Helmetta subsequently posted the letter on their web site to discredit activists trying to reform this disgraceful “shelter.” Apparently, Buddy Amato did not expect his letter to cause him “embarrassment” and told Mayor Martin to remove the letter from Helmetta’s web site. Apart from the numerous grammatical errors in Buddy Amato’s emails, the “inspection” itself lacked detail and hardly represents anything close to a thorough inspection. As a result, no one should take this report seriously.

Unfortunately, Buddy Amato, despite working for the no kill Monmouth County SPCA, has a history of defending heinous actions by animal control officers. In 2012, Buddy Amato defended 3 Monmouth County towns who routinely killed stray cats before the legal 7 day stray hold period ended. According to Buddy Amato, there was “no cruelty” and towns just had “administrative issues” and “no one should lose their job.” In what world, is illegally killing a healthy cat not cruelty? If you or I trapped a stray cat and injected it with poison, Buddy Amato certainly would prosecute us and rightly so. Apparently Buddy Amato and the Monmouth County SPCA believe illegally killing animals is fine as long as its done by their friends in the business. Thus, Buddy Amato’s glowing report on Helmetta’s shelter lacks any credibility given it comes from the “no one should lose their job” for illegally killing healthy cats guy.

The NJ SPCA conducted an official investigation subsequent to the Buddy Amato debacle, but it raised more questions than provided answers. Specifically, the NJ SPCA prepared a report and issued 6 warnings, but will not release it to the public. Instead, the state’s animal police gave Helmetta 30-60 days to correct their problems. Helmetta has known about the significant issues at their shelter for 3 years from various local and state inspections. Frankly, the NJ SPCA’s coddling of shelters is disgraceful and enough is enough. Given the NJ SPCA’s own guy in Monmouth County went to bat for the shelter recently, how confident should we be that the NJ SPCA will really make sure the shelter gets cleaned up?

Middlesex County Board of Health Cannot Be Trusted to Do the Right Thing

The Middlesex County Board of Health has a history of being anti-animal. Despite all major animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, ASPCA, Best Friends and no kill advocates, supporting TNR, Middlesex County Board of Health opposes TNR. Even worse, the Middlesex County Board of Health parrots false claims by cat hating groups, such as the American Bird Conservancy Association and PETA, who actively advocate rounding up and killing cats. To further destroy their credibility, the Middlesex Board of Health claims they advocate trapping and adopting out feral cats (impossible if cat is truly feral). Additionally, the Middlesex County Board of Health openly opposed the construction of a Middlesex County animal shelter in a letter to Mayor Martin. Interestingly, three years later Helmetta opened up its own for profit county animals shelter which fulfilled Middlesex County Board of Health’s catch and kill wish for feral cats.

Helmetta traps

As a result, we must view the Middlesex County Board of Health’s regulatory actions in light of these conflicts of interest.

The Middlesex County Board of Health’s response to Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter’s problems are distressing. Despite Helmetta violating New Jersey animal shelter laws for nearly three years, the Middlesex County Board of Health Director, Lester Jones, said do not worry about it after the issues became widely publicized in August. In fact, Lester Jones performed another inspection about a week later without the Office of Animal Welfare and miraculously reported improvements. After the NJ SPCA got involved one month later, Lester Jones performed another inspection and suddenly the same problems from before recurred, such as failing to isolate sick animals, out of state dogs without proper records, filthy conditions, and improper animal and medical record keeping. Remarkably, four days later Lester and Company inspected the shelter again and said things were greatly improving. Sorry Lester, I and many others are very worried about the conditions at this shelter. Given Middlesex County Board of Health’s failure to take effective action for three years and the conflicts of interest above, we cannot take this agency seriously. Time after time, local health departments fail to inspect shelters properly and ensure problems get fixed. Frankly, the Middlesex County Board of Health needs to request the state Office of Animal Welfare inspect the facility and then get completely out of the way. The Middlesex County Board of Health must have no involvement in the inspection and subsequent corrective actions for this intervention to have any credibility.

Helmetta Attempts to Cover Up its Disgraceful Shelter and Government

Helmetta’s Mayor and Borough Council are trying to hide the shelter’s and local government’s embarrassing facts from the public. During the summer, a former adopter, who adopted a gravely ill puppy from the shelter, took a video of an OPRA request he served at the borough’s municipal building. A part time police officer, who is also collecting a public pension, angrily told the man to stop taking the video and the officer said he did not need to follow the US Constitution. After the video went viral and Helmetta faced wide criticism, the officer resigned. As a response, Helmetta drafted an ordinance to ban all videos and pictures in public buildings, which would include the animal shelter, without a permit approved by the borough. The ACLU of New Jersey stated the proposed ordinance is illegal and would be subject to a legal challenge. In addition to making the borough’s taxpayers pay unnecessary legal expenses, Helmetta is clearly trying to operate under a veil of secrecy. Most disturbingly, Helmetta’s proposed ordinance is a blatant attempt to prevent the public from seeing the consequences of the borough’s for profit shelter.

Helmetta and Other Contracted Municipalities Residents Must Take Action

Residents in towns contracting for animal control and sheltering with Helmetta must demand their governments terminate these contracts. Clearly, Helmetta has no intention of running an animal shelter for the right reasons. The shelter’s stated goal, which is to run a for profit shelter, conflicts with the shelter’s duty to properly care for the animals. Repeated New Jersey shelter law violations over the course of three years prove the town’s elected officials and shelter management do not intend to improve the situation. Additionally, the lack of proper record keeping calls into question the validity of the amounts, which are largely based off these records, these municipalities taxpayers are paying Helmetta. Sayreville, the largest municipality contracting with Helmetta, seriously is considering terminating their arrangement with the shelter. Residents of these municipalities need to openly campaign to remove these politicians if these disgraceful arrangements continue.

Helmetta never needed to build an animal shelter. Based on New Jersey communities with similar demographics, the borough Helmetta should only need to impound around 15 animals a year from its borders. Assuming an average length of stay in the shelter of 30 days, the borough would typically only need to house 1 animal at a time. Literally, someone could foster the borough’s stray animals in their house. Helmetta residents need to question why the town incurred $1.9 million of debt to build a county animal shelter and allowed atrocities to occur at this facility when Helmetta itself barely had to house any animals.

The Mayor previously brought shame on the town by requiring police officers to aggressively write speeding tickets for nonresidents. Now, three officers in a police force of around six are suing Helmetta about this issue. Even worse, one of the lawsuits alleges discrimination based on one officer’s sexual orientation to force him to quit. Like the animal shelter, Mayor Martin tried to use the police department as a revenue source to reduce the need to raise property taxes. As with the animal shelter, the Mayor’s plan appears illegal and highly unethical and has brought negative publicity and embarrassment to this once quiet town.

Helmetta residents must recall Mayor Nancy Martin and all her allies on the Borough Council. At a certain point, Helmetta residents have to say enough is enough. Residents can no longer tolerate elected officials who run the town to the ground and then try to pass laws to hide these facts. Unfortunately, corruption and cruelty to animals go hand and hand in Helmetta. To end the cruelty at the animal shelter, residents must remove the corrupt politicians who caused it.